You are here

Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Two - A Heavy Burden)

Author: 
Colin Frayn
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
75

Tarok woke late the next morning to the bright sun piercing through the treetops, and the pleasant sound of birds and woodland insects singing busily to themselves. He sat up straight and yawned loudly and openly. For the first time since he left Tarnadon, he actually felt relaxed. The previous day had certainly been an exciting one, and very nearly disastrous as well. He looked out of the window to the forest and could barely believe how different it seemed in the daylight hours. It was as if all the danger of the previous night had been lifted; All the evil creatures of the darkness had fled from the sun's cleansing rays. Tarok surveyed the clearing, and noticed that Carek was sitting down beside a small campfire, cooking breakfast, and muttering softly to himself.

Tarok crawled from beneath his blankets, and slowly stood up. Just beside his bed lay all his camping equipment, his pots and pans and his sturdy walking boots. It was a great relief to be able to leave this heavy baggage in the hut and not to face another long day of hiking. Tarok wandered over to the door, opened it wide, and walked boldly out of the hut. He stepped into the clearing, and took another deep breath of pure forest air. Carek had built a small fire with some form of poultry cooking on the spit. He heard the approaching footsteps and turned to greet his new friend. "Aha! You're finally awake!" he called. "Would you like some breakfast?"

Tarok stared with curiosity at the strange assortment of woodland delicacies laid out before him. There were vegetables, fruit and nuts, various herbs, and a selection of cooked meats. Carek handed him a plate. "Here, try some of this." Tarok stared at the odd-looking dish lay before him. "It's a speciality of this part of the forest. One of my own recipes no less!" Tarok raised his eyebrows. Carek had cooked for himself for many years now. No doubt he had learnt a trick or two! Carek continued, "They are what my parents used to call cussu birds. No one outside the forest knows about them. They are very rare and it took me quite a while to find them for you."

Tarok took a bite. It was certainly very tasty, and he quickly took another. "Delicious. Where do these creatures live?" "I know a place where they can usually be found." Carek pointed towards the south, "It's over there, a small clearing two miles away. Three great pines mark the entrance, and the early morning light has a certain way of filtering through the branches. It's almost magical." Carek grinned, and turned to his new friend. "Well, almost…."

"You've been hunting this morning?" enquired Tarok. "When did you leave?"

"Just before sunrise," Carek replied. "I thought it best not to wake you," he added, "as you seemed so tired." Tarok nodded, and then glanced up towards the sun. It was climbing high in the sky now so he guessed that sunrise must have been quite some time ago. Clearly, Carek was accustomed to making the most out of each day. This was a virtue that Tarok had yet to learn.

After breakfast, Tarok returned to his hut, and sat down ready to start learning some spells. He opened his book at the first page and took his pen and ink ready to copy down the arcane writings in his own hand.

There is always something special about the first spell ever written into a wizard's book. Of course there's the sentimental value, but there was a great deal more. It symbolised the first step in a life of learning. It represented the foundation upon which Tarok's entire wealth of knowledge would be based in years to come. Tarok had written out other spells before now; that much had been taught to him while he still lived in Tarnadon. However, he never really had his own spell book before, only the occasional sheet handed out reluctantly by his teachers. Having ones own spell book was the sign of a true wizard. That was an honour normally only reserved for the most advanced of college students. Tarok thought of the college of magic and grinned a satisfied grin. He thought of all his ex-colleagues working hard behind piles of indecipherable texts. He grinned again.

The strange thing was that Tarok had never enjoyed writing out spells before - it always seemed like a chore; a tedious initiation into the real world of magic. This was different - now he wanted to learn. Moreover, he actually needed to learn if he wished to stay alive! These two factors together inspired him to get some studying done, and for the first time in his life there was nothing else that he would rather be doing.

Copying up spells was a very laborious business, a fact that all but the most anti-social of wizards heavily lamented. Not only had the words to be transcribed into the wizard's personal book, but they needed to be written in a certain special way so that the magic was encoded into the pages. This was all part of the learning process. In order for a wizard to be able to cast a spell, he or she had initially to form the magical energy in their mind in a certain precise fashion. It was this layout of forces which was represented by the inscriptions in the magic book, and which was transcribed into the wizard's mind as a pattern of different shapes of energy. These patterns were simply unlocked for the spell to take effect. Tarok knew all this from his basic training, but this was the first time he had ever tried out all his knowledge without the skilled eye of a tutor watching his every move. Any tiny mistake here could have dramatic consequences.

Firstly he took his pen - a beautiful quill made from the feather of a baby peacock. This was considered almost the best quality quill money could buy and was very durable as well. He had certainly paid a lot for it - fifteen silver pieces. This was as much as he earned in a month working as an assistant in his local bookshop. The quill was dipped in finest quality ink, cleaned, and then pressed down on to the clear, white paper.

Tarok set about writing the first entry into his new book; A simple telekinesis spell taught to him by his old friend and tutor, Rodrick, many years ago. It was the first real spell that he ever learned, so he reasoned that it should be the first to go into his new book. Bearing in mind the amount of meticulous work that went into writing each page, a wizard's spell book was understandably their one most treasured possession. They valued them more than gold, silver or precious gems, and very rarely allowed them out of their sight. Some wizards carried their spell books around with them everywhere they went, and the majority kept them safely under their pillow as they slept. Some even believed that their spell books could think and communicate with them by telepathy, but that was more likely the product of a mind affected too greatly by the rigours of more powerful magic!

After several hours of hard work, Tarok had finished copying up his few favourite spells. There were six of them in all, and they formed the sum total of all that he considered useful from his many years of formal schooling. It was a sad reflection on academic life that Tarok could think only of this meagre selection of primitive incantations. He sat back, relieved, and looked over what he had written. A muffled grin crossed his face as he remembered all the long days that he had spent labouring behind a desk in a vain attempt to learn even the most trivially minor spells. He was relieved more than anything else that he had managed at least to recall this much. Somewhere, deep inside his mind, all the information he had picked up over the years lurked waiting to be rediscovered. How easy it all seemed now that he wasn't being forced to learn. He was benefiting from the freedom that the forest gave him. He was drawing inspiration from those trees which, only a few hours ago, had seemed so impenetrable and clandestine but now actively encouraged his mind to explore its own boundaries, unrestrained.

Just as the afternoon was drawing to a close, Carek walked in and wandered over towards the wizard's table. He looked at the arcane writings on the page with some intrigue, then turned to the wizard and spoke. "What does it say?"

Tarok smiled. "It says a great deal my friend. Perhaps I shall demonstrate to you sometime."

"Well, how about this evening over dinner?" suggested the half-elf, inquisitively. "But first I have a suggestion for you."

Tarok raised an eyebrow, intrigued.

Carek continued, "I was wondering if you wanted to come hunting with me. I promised last night that you could accompany me some time, and this evening seems like a fine opportunity."

Tarok smiled, "I really don't think I'd be much use, I'm afraid!"

Carek did not seem to mind, as he was happy to have the company after so long in solitude.

"We all have to learn one day. It would do you good to understand the ways of the forest. After all, I can't watch out for you all the time."

It was a fair point. Tarok could not afford just to sit in his hut and study. After all, that would do him no good at all. He had decided to come to these forests to learn about adventuring, and Carek was just the person to teach him. Tarok quickly tidied up his desk, and then closed his new spell book. He placed the weighty tome in his bag, which he slung proudly over his shoulder. No ogre or hobgoblin was going to deprive him of that particular possession.

Carek took his bow and dagger, and put on his padded leather hunting suit. He picked up a hunting knife from one of his walls, and gave it to Tarok. "Keep this with you at all times. It may save your life." Tarok nodded, sheathed the weapon and attached it to his belt. "I wouldn't want you getting injured while you're staying in my home!" added his half-elf guide.

Tarok grinned, "Oh don't worry about me. I survived five days on my own here, didn't I?"

Carek nodded. It was an impressive feat. Surviving five days alone in the eastern forests was a difficult task. Over the years, Carek had come across the scattered belongings of several adventurers who had attempted to do the same but had not been so lucky.

Tarok had never wielded a weapon before, except his walking staff, but that wasn't really counted. It was all a new experience to him, and he swiped the knife in the air like an overexcited child pretending to battle fantastic monsters, evil dragons, and the like. Carek found the sight rather comical. He himself was an accomplished hunter, as was necessary for him to stay alive in the forest on his own. Many years of isolation had taught him not only to make his own weapons of superior quality, but also to use them to deadly effect.

The two hunters set off to the north, soon entering the thick undergrowth along what Carek claimed was a well-worn track. Apparently he had found several wild boars in this area before, and it was likely that they would find another. Boars were dangerous creatures, but Carek knew several tricks that he could use to swing the fight in his favour. So far he had avoided serious injury, despite a few very near misses. Carek told Tarok of the tricks to a successful hunt, adding in a few bits of advice to his novice friend, "Remember to stay back behind me, and not to move unless I tell you to. If the boar charges at you then head for a tree and climb it. Whatever you do, do not try to stand and fight. Bravery has no reward here - that knife won't do much damage unless you know exactly how to use it." Tarok was beginning to feel slightly uneasy about this whole hunting idea.

After a few minutes, they reached a stream, which they crossed by wading through where it was most shallow. The water was clear, but surprisingly cold. Fortunately it was only knee-deep, and was flowing gently. Carek warned Tarok to watch out for the rocks which where deceivingly slippery, and had caused him to trip several times. He was also told to look out for the various varieties of river fish that could give you a nasty scare if you were not prepared for them. They were quite harmless, Carek reassured him, but looked somewhat vicious and always tried to fend off intruders as best as they could. All this was very new to Tarok who, as he began to learn, had lived quite a sheltered life back at Tarnadon. Sure enough a few silvery shapes darted around beneath the surface of the water, and brushed past his legs. For Tarok it was a relief encountering something harmless in this most deadly of places.

They crossed the stream safely and began to make their way back into the trees on the other side, following a rough track through the undergrowth, which Carek had trodden several times before. Carek seemed almost to float over the forest floor, barely touching the leaves underfoot as he slid effortlessly along some invisible path. Behind him, Tarok stumbled over fallen branches, and crunched loudly on the crisp fallen leaves. He was clumsy in this woodland scenery, but understandably so. Carek's short, thin build was ideally suited for creeping through shrubs and branches. Tarok was a little too tall and not quite supple enough to avoid the occasional head-height branch.

They eventually reached the place where Carek said they would most likely find some boar. Tarok wandered around, peering into the bushes as Carek crept silently between the trees, his ears listening out for the slightest sound of movement. Tarok had great difficulty discerning any noise at all above the constant chattering of the woodland birds and rodents.

Carek began to creep away from where Tarok was standing, and towards a slightly denser region of shrub. He held his dagger out ahead of him, carefully parting the branches in front without making a sound. Suddenly he stopped and stared straight ahead. He stood quite still, and motioned to Tarok to do the same. Whatever Carek had heard, it seemed to be quite nearby. The chances were that it was a wild boar so they didn't want to disturb it until they were fully prepared. Carek took his bow and placed an arrow silently on the string. Tarok grasped his knife firmly and held it in front of him, attempting to look as if he knew what he was doing.

Carek moved slowly forward, barely making any noise at all. He was obviously very well practised at stalking animals, and he drew closer to the source of the disturbance with great skill. He seemed to be heading towards a particularly large bush, which was no more than four or five feet from where he was standing. Tarok held his breath and watched with awe as his friend approached the prey. Suddenly there was a squeal and a small grey animal rushed out from the bush at top speed! It scattered the branches apart and gave them both quite a shock! It was a young boar, perhaps a year old, which disappeared as suddenly as it had entered, dashing past the unprepared wizard and into the bushes behind. Carek caught his breath, and then motioned Tarok to remain still once more. As an experienced hunter, he knew that the mother would be nearby. Adult boars could be quite nasty, especially when cornered.

Suddenly, the trees parted again, and a large brown figure appeared from amidst the leaves. Carek stumbled backwards; just keeping his footing as the creature roared and lunged forwards. It was certainly not a boar, but a forest bear! Tarok's heart was beating heavily. He grabbed his knife tightly and called out to his friend. "Carek! Get out of there! Run!" Carek was doing his best, but the bear was faster. It had powerful, muscular legs and could easily out-run the startled half-elf. The great creature charged at Carek, growling ferociously as his prey stumbled backwards in fear. Tarok stood back as the bear edged towards his friend. He glanced at the tiny knife in his hand, but realised that it would take more than that to injure this creature. Carek reached for his dagger, and took a stance ready to fight. The bear lunged at the poor half-elf, and caught him off-guard. Carek was hurled to the floor, his dagger flying out of his grasp and across the clearing. The bear roared, and struck forwards with its powerful claw, but Carek rolled to one side and narrowly avoided the blow. Tarok knew that he had to do something, but didn't want to risk angering the bear still further. By the looks of it, one solid strike from those claws could kill! He began to edge forward, knowing that his only chance would be to distract the bear away from his friend. For the second time in two days, Tarok seemed to be staring death in the face, almost literally. However, this time it was Carek who found himself in danger, and Tarok was left to decide on a plan. The bear roared once more, and stood up on its hind legs, rising some eight feet tall and towering above the helpless half-elf, who shuffled backwards as fast as he could. Tarok waved around some branches and tried to distract the powerful creature, but to no avail.

Suddenly had an idea - his telekinesis spell. It was the only chance they had. He looked around the clearing for suitable branches, but then his gaze settled on Carek's dagger, lying just a few yards away. Tarok closed his eyes and began to chant the ancient words, written down in his spell book only a few hours before. He managed to keep his concentration as the bear dropped down towards Carek once more, trapping the helpless half-elf's left arm painfully on the ground. Carek was struggling hard, only just managing to fend off the bear's sharp teeth with his one free hand.

Magical patterns began to unlock themselves from the recesses of the wizard's mind, and slowly he drew the energy into form, directing it towards the desired target. The bear was distracted for a moment by the wizard's incantations, but then returned to the helpless half-elf who was now trying to kick himself free. Slowly the dagger rose, and Tarok's mind took over. He opened his eyes and concentrated hard, staring at the gleaming steel blade as it hovered a few feet above the ground. Carek could only look on helplessly, as the bear's ferocious jaws edged towards him. This was going to be his only chance. Tarok summoned all his energy, pointed at the bear and sent the dagger shooting through the air like an arrow. The blade hit its target with a thud, piercing the bear's forehead and drawing dark blood. The ferocious creature let out a fearsome yell and lumbered slowly to one side. Carek managed to roll out from underneath it as its heavy bulk crashed down on to the floor. The half-elf picked up his bow, limped back a few paces, and quickly shot two arrows into the bear's thick hide.

The creature staggered around, roaring and crashing into the bushes around him. Finally, as his energy began to wane, he collapsed to the floor. Carek grabbed his dagger, and was quick to finish the job. The bear drew one last breath, and then fell dead amidst the grass and leaves. Tarok breathed a sigh of relief and rested against a tree for a few moments, catching his breath. Carek slowly began to recover, and held his left arm which had been cut by the creature's claws. Grimacing slightly, he tightened his clothing over the wound, and then turned to his companion. "I was wondering when you would come to help!" Tarok blushed. Carek continued, "I'm indebted to you, my friend. I don't think I'll need any further demonstration of your powers."

Tarok shook his head, "Not at all" he replied, indignantly, "You saved me only yesterday. I believe that we're now equal!" Carek nodded, and then dropped to the floor once more, laughing quietly to himself and trying to ignore the pain in his arm. It was not a deep wound fortunately, and he had certainly suffered worse in his time. Tarok, however, had learnt a valuable lesson. He had performed that exact same spell many times before, and had even used it in examinations. They were pressurised situations, but nothing had prepared him for this. For the first time since he began studying so many years ago, his powers had saved a life. If Tarok had failed, then the consequences would certainly have been fatal. As he was to learn, a good fighter could defeat many a powerful adversary, but only a wizard could change the course of an entire battle. It was a great privilege, but also an enormous responsibility. Only now was he beginning to realise why all those teachers back home had given up their adventuring lives in order to share their knowledge with others. It took a truly exceptional kind of person, and Tarok hoped that he would prove to be just that.

After a short rest, the two young men heaved the bear onto a pair of logs, and tied it on. They fastened a rope to the creature's legs, and slung it over their shoulders. Then they began to drag their catch back to the huts. The creature must have weighed 400 pounds and it was hard, thirsty work, but now they had much to talk about. Tarok's first spell had saved Carek's life, and probably his own as well. The young wizard was very pleased, and planned out a list of all the spells he would learn in the next few days. He also had an idea for a few simple tricks, which he had briefly read about in his new textbook. Though he had an entire lifetime in front of him, he sensed a renewed urgency about his studies. Suddenly, a lifetime seemed rather too short. There was so much to learn, and Tarok was terribly impatient.

Several miles, and many hours of hard work later, they arrived back at the huts, which now seemed more welcoming than ever before to the two exhausted hunters. They untied the bear, and Carek started a fire. It was getting quite late and the sun was beginning to set beneath the horizon. Already the comfortable, reassuring forest atmosphere was beginning to seep away and the encroaching darkness brought back with it the threatening night. Carrying the bear had more than tripled the time for the return journey and they were both extremely tired by the ordeal. Carek's arm was still quite weak and dragging the bear back this far certainly had not helped. He spent some time washing and bandaging his wounds so that they would heal as soon as possible. In the eastern forests, an injury like that could mean the difference between a successful hunt and a failure. Too many failures could prove fatal.

Thinking of food, they had managed to eat some fruit from the trees on the way, so were not in desperate need of nutrition. However, they nonetheless prepared a hot soup to warm them up as soon as they got the fire blazing once more. The bear, it seemed, would last them for several weeks. They decided to prepare and salt it the following morning so that it would keep as well as possible. Carek spoke of an old deserted salt mine in the direction of the town from where he normally took any supplies he needed. Apparently the miners just left suddenly several years back, and no humans had ventured near there since. Carek said, however that he quite often walked down the tunnels to collect a bucket full of salt, and that the whole place seemed perfectly safe. Clearly, the miners had not left for structural reasons but because of some other problem. Maybe the forests got too dangerous after the death of the elven community. It seemed unlikely to Tarok at least that anyone could pay enough to justify the risk of working in such a perilous place. However, the wizard was enthusiastic to accompany his friend, and wanted a good excuse to explore more of his new forest home. They agreed to leave early the following morning.

Tarok went back to his hut as the stars began to illuminate the night sky. There was a full moon. He hoped that this was not a bad omen, for the forest seemed terrifying enough at night without the threat of any more sinister creatures wandering through the shadows of the camp. Tarok lay down on his mattress with his spell book safely beneath a pillow of straw. He was very tired, and managed to settle down quickly. He was certainly glad for the sturdy hut door, which he shut and bolted securely behind him. That would keep out whatever frightening creatures might decide to search around the camp that night. It was a great comfort, and allowed the wizard to fall quickly into a deep, relaxing sleep. Once again, he slept soundly that night, despite his fears. Another long day of work had taken its toll.

The next morning, Tarok awoke slightly earlier than before, but Carek was already awake and collecting firewood in the clearing around the huts. The young half-elf had obviously managed to condition himself over the years to a life of little sleep, and a lot of hard work - he was certainly fit and very agile. Unfortunately, Tarok could not say the same of himself, as he had been forced to study for many hours behind a cold uninviting desk, and had consequently managed very little exercise. Tarok slowly clambered to his feet, his joints more than a little sore from carrying that bear the previous day. However, the extra food was welcome as there were now two mouths to feed, and Tarok had a large appetite! Carek was always weary of over hunting the forest, as it was his only real source of food. He had to look after it so that he could guarantee himself a steady supply of fresh meat. Back when his parents were alive they used to grow a lot of their own food, and they also knew exactly how to care for the forest. They had a wealth of knowledge and experience which had mostly been lost that fateful day when the ogres came. Carek had inherited a fair amount of his parents' knowledge, though he was too young when they died to have been bothered by the more serious side of forest life. He never really looked to the future much as the present always seemed more important, as it often does in the ignorance of youth. His parents' deaths had forced him to grow up quickly - to look to the future much more than before. This was partly because he now had to plan how he was going to care for himself through those long, harsh adolescent years. He needed to know how to hunt, how to keep warm and how to protect himself against the forest which harboured so many dangers for him. It was also partly because the present no longer held anything for him, except painful memories and tearful glimpses of a past which was now far out of his reach.

Carek also knew that the forest was no longer the same as it was before his family and their community was destroyed. There was no longer anyone to care for the forest dwellers. No-one to protect it from the advancing tide of darkness which began to envelop it even as his parents' blood soaked into the damp forest soil. That darkness which had now, so many years later, overcome the forest almost entirely. The hobgoblins were becoming powerful, but there were more dangerous adversaries too, hiding out of view as they slowly grew in strength with each passing year. The forest was a different place now - more dangerous and far less benevolent. Less vibrant and lively. It was still that place of legend, known by people from the outside world through travellers' tales. It was still the realm of adventure and intrigue. However, the steady flow of brave fighters' tales had began to thin out now as fewer of the brave dared to enter the forest, and fewer still returned to tell of their endeavours.

Carek had planned the expedition to the salt mine well. He had been there himself many times, and knew exactly what to expect and what they were going to need to take with them. He packed a shovel and a pickaxe, two large buckets and, just in case, his bow and a dagger. Tarok wanted to try out a new spell that he had learned. It made use of the same forces that he had mastered to animate the dagger the previous day, but only in a slightly more complicated way. This spell created small pockets of high pressure inside solid matter near the caster. This caused the small volume affected to blow apart with a loud bang, as Tarok demonstrated on a selection of fruit, much to Carek's amusement. The forces involved were not very large, but maybe enough to dislodge some salt, or so he hoped. Tarok was keen to avoid as much physical work as possible, as ever.

Carek prepared some of the bear, and roasted it over the fire. They found it a little tough, but nonetheless tasty. Carek had tried bear a few only a few times before. He remembered when a bear once invaded the elven community and his father fought it off along with a few of the other elven men, brandishing sharp spears and longbows. They were an impressive sight, and brave fighters all of them. Carek remembered re-enacting the fight with his father later, striking an old tree stump covered in bear furs with a sharp stick. His father had taught him so many fighting skills that he himself had practised to perfection in the years of solitude before he met Tarok. That tree was still there, towards the edge of the clearing. Carek still strapped furs around it and used it as a target for his arrows when he felt like training his skills.

Having packed all the necessary tools, they set off just after dawn in order to get back well before sunset. After the sun went down, the forest grew perilous as all the creatures of night came out to feed. Tarok certainly wanted to be back before then because he had heard some very strange noises at night around the huts, and he was not in a hurry to find out what made them!

They marched off majestically into the forest, Carek with his bow slung over his shoulder, and Tarok carrying the shovel and Carek's dagger strapped to his belt. He hoped that this time he would not be required to use it, although he now knew that he had one or two more tricks up his sleeve should he be faced with a fight. He turned briefly back to the fort, bade goodbye to his new home, and then followed his guide off to the west in the direction of the mines.

 

WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 2 - A Heavy Burden © Colin Frayn

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
  • up
    50%
  • down
    50%