The Pale Warrior

The Pale Warrior: Chapter Seven

Continued from The Pale Warrior: Chapter Six. Or start reading at the beginning.

Tawney smelled the thick brew she was making. It was almost ready, but she felt like something was missing. She stirred, trying to decide what. Maybe a pinch more salt or maybe—

“Mother, they’re calling a meeting,” said Pierre as he entered, not even waiting for the door to swing all the way open. Tawney looked up in time to see it narrowly miss the water bucket before it slammed against the wall.

“When?” asked his mother, whose name, Tawney had learned, was Marianne.

Tawney glanced between them as she stirred the pot of medicine, leaning against her walking stick.

“Tonight.”

“No surprise. It’s probably about the villagers.  They’ll be wanting to warn anyone who doesn’t already know. It’s a bother, though. I’d hoped to stay with Jane.”

“I suppose I could go alone, Mother, or with Abby. Then you could take care of Jane.”

Tawney turned her gaze back to the pot of medicine and gave a small, “Oh!”

In her distraction, she’d stopped stirring, and the mixture had begun to boil fiercely and was threatening to overflow. Tawney dropped the spoon and grabbed the handles of the pot to pull it off the fire and set it on the floor. Her walking stick hit the floor with a loud bang. There was a short pause, and then she slapped her hands against her leggings and hissed through her teeth at the burns, bouncing her weight from foot to foot. A second later, pain shot through her twisted foot.

“Tawney, sit,” commanded Marianne. Tawney quickly obeyed, hopping on one foot backwards to the wooden bench. She lifted her smarting hands to stare at the red skin.

“Pierre, get fresh, cool water,” said Marianne, taking long strides across the room, picking up the water bucket by the door as she went. She set it in front of Tawney and said sharply, “Soak your hand.”

Tawney obeyed, dipping her hands into the water and shutting her eyes. “I’m sorry, but it was boiling. I didn’t want it that hot.” She paused and sniffed the aroma coming from the pot, adding, “It should be ready soon, I think. It just needs more salt.”

Marianne shook her head. “Don’t be sorry to me. Now, stay here and tell me how to finish it. Then when Pierre gets back, I’ll bandage your hand.”

Tawney gave a small nod, squeezing her hands into fists under the water, and then releasing them. “It should only take a pinch of salt, thoroughly stirred in. Then put a couple full scoops in a small bowl for Jane. The rest can store. I am sorry, though. I should have been paying attention.”

Marianne rolled her eyes, picked up the pot from where Tawney had left it on the floor, and proceeded to add salt. Pierre returned as she was ladling the brew into a wooden bowl. She glanced up at him and said, “Leave that water by the door and get Tawney some ointment and bandages. I’m going to take care of Jane.”

Pierre gave his mother a nod, and went to the small cabinet. He barely gave its contents a glance before grabbing a jar and a roll of white bandages. Coming over to Tawney, he said roughly, “Let me see your hands.”

Tawney pulled them out of the water and hesitantly held them out. They prickled and looked red, but nothing worse than that. Pierre opened the jar and applied a thick ointment to them, and almost as soon as it touched, a cooling sensation ran through her hands. After he had rubbed it around he started to wrap her hands in bandages.

Tawney bit her tongue anxiously. Pierre was working with a frown on his face that scared her. Though she was curious, her shyness won out and she remained silent until he finished. Then she asked, “Who’s calling a meeting?”

The boy shrugged. “The people like us, who live in the woods.”

“You mean you’re not the only ones?” said Tawney in surprise.

Pierre gave a wry smile. “Yes, because only one of us could have escaped your knowledge. Obviously, your village could not have been ignorant of an entire society of people like us, living in peace in the forest and hoping that your folk wouldn’t disturb us, and therefore being very careful to remain hidden.”

Tawney blushed. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I’m sorry.”

Pierre grunted, then stalked out of the house. Tawney slumped back against the wall.

To be continued…

The Pale Warrior: Chapter Six

“Pierre, take Tawney to the river, and go slowly. Bring her back when she’s ready.”

Pierre cast Tawney a glare, grumbled “I’ll wait outside,” before stomping out and slamming the door.

Tia, the mother of the family, sighed. “I wish he was more of a forgiving boy, but he seems to have built the villagers up in his mind to be some sort of monster. He understands them less than they understand us. Well, go now, dear, and be careful. It may just be a twist, but tripping over it won’t make it heal any faster.”

Tawney went out the door. She’d never heard of anyone living in the forest. However, knowing that there was made her sorry for them. Sorry for the harsher life they seemed to lead, having to do everything for themselves. In the town, if you wanted cloth, you went to the weaver. You didn’t necessarily have to make it yourself.

Before she’d started working with the weaver, Tawney’s family would always weave their own. When she’d started working, she’d earned enough to pay for the wool, and all that was left was to knit it. Before, it had been a hurried rush to get clothes out for the family before it was too late.

This here was a larger family, with nowhere to go to get what they needed. They had to make their own bread and shelter. And their father did not seem to still live. Tawney wondered if this was why Pierre disliked the villagers.

Outside, Pierre was pacing impatiently. Tawney nodded quietly to him, and he stormed off, making each step thud loudly against the ground. Tawney silently followed, her eyes on his feet.

It was maybe a ten minute walk — however, at the pace she forced Pierre to set, it took closer to twenty. When they arrived, he went off to lean against a tree, while Tawney bent over and started digging with her hands at the mud under the water.

After about five minutes of careful digging, Austen appeared through the trees running. “Pierre!” he called, “Race you.” Austen jumped into the water and splashed Pierre.

Pierre remain silent as Austen swam a lap and then splashed him again. “Ha, for once I beat you,” Austen said. Pierre’s mouth twitched downwards.

Tawney watched out of her eyes as Austen swam more laps laughing at Pierre. Then Pierre dived into the water and sent a large splash over Austen. He twisted around and said, “Fine, one race. But the villagers are out, so don’t be too loud.”

Tawney watched them as she finished gathering the herbs she was looking for. After the first race, Pierre was more willing to do the next. Austen lost repeatedly, and kept claiming each time that this time he’d beat Pierre good and honest.

Together, the two boys laughing and Tawney remaining silent as ever, they made the twenty-minute trek back to the house.

To be continued…

The Pale Warrior: Chapter Five

“I told you she woke up and saw me. And that she followed me. But you had to go thinking I lost her. And that she would give up quickly,” said a young voice.

Tawney staggered around to look at the new people. There was a tall boy, a bit older than her, who held the sharp stick. Beside him stood the boy whom Tawney had seen before. As Tawney watched, a girl stepped out and gasped.

“Pierre, look at her. She has no weight at all, and she limps! Take her to mother now. She can do us no harm.  And Austen, go now and do your chores. Pipi needs fed and milked, and here you are goggling at a poor, hurt girl.”

The girl looked to Tawney to be around ten, yet the boys snapped to attention. The smaller boy ran like a hornet was after him. And the older boy lowered his stick, grumbling, “But she’s one of the town’s people. They’re always up to mischief.”

The girl rolled her eyes and shouted after the smaller boy, “And don’t forget to groom Bernard. He’s shedding.” Then she jabbed the older boy and stalked off.

The boy, whom Tawney presumed to be Pierre, led her into the house. A woman stood over a pot, slicing potatoes. A door across the room had just closed, and Tawney guessed that the younger girl had gone in there.

The woman turned as they came in. “Pierre, go do something constructive. Help Austin with Bernard, or see if Addy needs anything for Jane. You, dear, go sit over there. I’ll tend to you as soon as I’m done with these.”

Pierre turned and left, and Tawney sat on a bench in the corner. After around five minutes, the woman left the room and came back with a basket. She knocked on the door that the girl had gone through and called, “Addy, come help me.”

Then the woman knelt and removed Tawney’s shoe. “My, I’m afraid it might be twisted, but nothing worse than that. Nothing we can’t fix in a week or so. A cool, wet cloth alone will do wonders for it.” The girl, whom Tawney had not seen reenter the room, grabbed a cloth from the basket and went back outside.

Tawney licked her lips and then whispered, “Why did Pierre seem so defensive against me?”

The woman sighed. “Yesterday, late, one of the people from your village thought Jane was a deer, or something, and tried to shoot her. He had a blow gun and darts, you see, and one of his darts hit her. Luckily, Pierre was there to drag her away, but there was something on the darts that made her sick.”

Tawney knew immediately who it was. Ali was well known for the speed with which she could craft wood. She was a genius at making furniture, wooden figurines, bows, and her personal specialty: dart shooters and darts.

Tawney frowned, “Oh. . . but you know, you’ve been kind to me, maybe I could help her. I think I know the remedy for the .  . . herbs he used.” Poison wasn’t the right word, and Tawney didn’t want the woman to get the wrong idea if Tawney used it.

The woman looked at her and smiled, “That would be a wonderful idea, dear. And I really am sorry for the way Pierre acted, but he hates the town’s people. He doesn’t understand. I  just hope one day he will.

“You can stay with us until you’re healed.”

To be continued…

The Pale Warrior: Chapter Four

Tawney kept walking most of the morning. By lunch her legs were sore, and she was shivering. She sat down beneath a tree and broke off a piece of bread to nibble on. Then she withdrew her arms into her brother’s large shirt, and holding them close to her body, kept going.

It was mid-afternoon when she decided to settle down. She’d come upon a lightning-struck tree. She scratched below it an arrow pointing home. Then she attempted climbing.

Tawney managed to get up on the first branch of a nearby tree. Carefully she stood, throwing her arms around the tree’s truck as best she could. Then she put a hand on the next branch. She tried swinging her leg up onto the branch. Her leg caught it for a moment, then she slipped and fell.

Falling felt like it was sucking the air out of Tawney’s lungs. It made her feel weightless, but at the same time too heavy. Even if she’d wanted to cry out she couldn’t have. Then she hit the ground, and her knees buckled. Her foot rapped against the stone she’d used to boost herself up onto the first branch.

Tawney lay there a while, her breath coming in short gasps. She heard a crow somewhere, then a howl. Still she didn’t make any move except to curl into a tight ball. Tawney was never sure when or how she got to sleep.

When she woke, however, she felt like she’d been the one struck by lightning, not the tree she’d used as her marker. Tawney lay there awhile more. Then her spine prickled, and she looked around slightly.

For a few moments, she saw a boy crouched in the shadows of the trees, staring at her. Then their eyes met, and he was gone. Listening, Tawney heard the crow again, this time twice in rapid succession.

Curiosity roused, Tawney stood and limped after him, barely bothering to pick up her bag, which had landed next to her on the ground when she fell. She didn’t know what she had been planning when she went after the boy, as she’d quickly lost him, but Tawney continued still in the direction he’d gone.

She’d only been going a few minute when her breath started coming in short gasps again. Her lungs ached. Her foot, which she was afraid to look at, still felt like a dog was biting it, which hurt more than the rest of her sore body.

Tawney wasn’t sure how long she went or why she’d bother to keep going, when she saw the cottage. She thought at first it was a mirage of some sort. However, this mirage didn’t go away, not like the boy. So she pushed on.

A wolf howled right behind her. And then a sharp stick jabbed into her backside. A husky voice spoke from behind her, “You’re suppose to be dead, or close to it. Is this another one of you towns-people’s silly tricks?”

 

To be continued…

The Pale Warrior: Chapter Three

Tawney had trouble getting to sleep that night, and she woke around three in the morning. She knew she should still be tired, but she couldn’t sleep. She slipped out of bed and started preparing a bath. It was still at least three hours until anyone else woke up, and she had to make herself busy somehow.

After she’d bathed, she put on her old winter suit and then pulled her brother’s on over it. It was loose, but she knew it would probably be warmer than hers.

After that, Tawney started working on her brother’s new suit. She needed something to do with her hands, and she was at least as good with cloth and wool as her mother. Soon she was in a rhythm — she was almost able to do this in her sleep once she got going. By the time the rest of her family stirred, she was half done with it.

“Tawney. . .  Maybe you should leave for the meeting-house before your mother wakes up,” Tawney’s father said, surprising Tawney a bit.

Tawney nodded and put away the knitting. She sighed. It was possible that after seven-thirty, when she was to set off into the woods, she would never see her family again. Her father gave her a small smile, “Just survive for as long as you can. Who knows, you may be more like your brother than you think. Now hurry, I’d hate to think what’ll happen if your Mother tries talking to you now.”

Tawny nodded and then left. She wasn’t the first one up. She saw some of the other candidates moving through the streets as well. She didn’t stop to talk to anyone, but hurried on. The morning air was cold, and by the time she got to the meeting-house, she was slightly shivery. It was looking to be a cold day, not a good sign for her.

She reached the meeting building third. The only other people there were Erik, the visitor, and the boy for age fourteen. Eric smiled and put his arm on her shoulder. “So. This is all very exciting. When I heard about a fabled forest village. . . I thought it would interesting, but nothing like this! So, how do you feel about it all?”

Tawney felt for a second like telling him she wished he’d never been born. However, she bit her tongue and said, “Well, I’m not quite sure. I really think my twin brother would have been a much better choice. However, I think I’ll do well enough. Say, how long are you planning on staying?” The part about doing well enough was a bit of a lie. But she would do well enough for her village to know she’d done her best.

Eric grinned, “I don’t know. This place is so pleasant, I might stay for a month, or for a year. See, I’d much like to learn about the forest, learn all the precious things that live in it. See, I’m not much of a merchant, and I figure my best bet is to come out with something new, fresh and exciting!”

Tawney swallowed. “Well, how are we supposed to know what the day before you leave is, if we’re not allowed to return to even the outskirts of the village for three seconds, just to check?”

Eric smiled. “Well, I’m sure you’ll figure something out. I have faith you’ll come back in time to see me off.”

Tawney thought, but dared not say, Easy for you to say.

Soon the others had arrived, and Eric questioned each on their feelings. Tawney sat in a corner, not wanting to talk to others. When Arnold arrived, he laid out the choices of equipment.

Tawney got to choose first. She took the backpack that had the fish and bread. After they all made their choices, they went out onto the small stage which they’d used at the choosing. Arnold announced each one of them, and Tawney waited impatiently for her turn.

Soon she was the last on the stage. “Hem, and for age thirteen Tawney,” Arnold continued after the boy from age fourteen had left. “Accompanied by bread and fish. Though the youngest, should never be called the weakest.”

Tawney half wanted to laugh at those words. She was by far the weakest, but no one could change the words of the ceremony. So instead she smiled at the town, then walked off the stage, and started into the woods.

 

To be continued…

The Pale Warrior: Chapter Two

When she and her family arrived home, Tawney’s brother was quick to disappear. Tawney had been thinking over things on the way home, and she had decided that she wasn’t going cry anymore.

Instead she went to her chest to pick out the warmest clothes she had. Though they were a little tattered, and a bit small, they were the best she had. She laid the clothes on top of her chest and then stood.

Her father’s hand closed over her shoulder and squeezed gently. “Have you decided on what you’ll pick?” He said. Tawney knew that he was just as sad as her mother, who sat weaving out her brother’s new tunic for the coming winter, but she knew that he knew that he would have to be strong for his family.

“The food.” Her father nodded, and she continued. “I’ll have until nightfall to find shelter, and I can gather sticks for a fire and stuff as I go. But I’ve always been bad about missing mealtimes. The bread and the fish will at least make me a good lunch.”

Her father nodded, then hugged her, hard. “That’s my daughter, good with her mind, even when her body fails her.” Tawney hugged back. She’d learned a lot from her father, like how to be composed, even when worst came to worst. Her mother had always had trouble with her emotions, but Tawney’s father had held firm, a staff for his family to lean on.

“Thanks, Dad. A lot. For everything.” Tawney let go and sprinted out the door and into the woods. It was easy for her to find her brother, all she had to do was go to the stream. When she got there he was completely submerged. She sat in the shadow of her favorite tree and waited.

As soon as he surfaced, she called out, “Don’t drown yourself.” He swiftly twisted around, a surprised look on his face. It had been an old joke between them for her to say, ‘Don’t drown yourself’ or something to that effect when she came out to here. The first time she’d come to fetch him from the stream, he’d been under water. She’d thought he was drowning and had screamed, and then started yelling ‘don’t drown’ over and over again. He had surfaced and calmed her down, and then they had both laughed about it.

“Sis! I. . . uh. . . I wasn’t expecting you.” He dragged himself out of the water. He had always used it as a safe haven, since he was the best swimmer in the family, and possibly the village. That was how Tawney had known exactly where he would be.

Tawney looked at the water. She’d never been above her knees in the stuff, and now she wondered if maybe she should have learned. Maybe she should have learned a lot of things that she hadn’t.

“Hey sis, I was thinking, maybe you should wear my old winter suit. It might be better. It won’t be small on you, so it’ll be better than your tattered thing, and my new suit will be done soon anyway. And even if it isn’t, I’ll handle the cold.”

Tawney looked at him. “I really thought it would be you. I guess everyone did. But it’s alright, between us, it’s better for the family that I go. You’re too much help to Dad. If you’d gone, it’d have been a lot harder for us. So, just promise me you’ll take care of Mom and Dad.”

“Okay sis, just promise me one thing. If you make it through, tell me every detail. And I mean every detail. I want to live it through you, if I can. Some how, some way.”

 

To be continued…

The Pale Warrior: Chapter 1

“For age thirteen, Tawney Firestone.” Tawney’s mouth dropped, and her chest tightened for a second. Beside her, her much taller twin brother’s hands clenched. Whether more out of anger for not getting chosen for the test, or anger for his sister’s now nearly certain death, Tawney wasn’t sure.

The room was silent, void of the applause that had accompanied the other choices. Tawney’s mother leaned heavily on her father, who was pale white.

Tawney couldn’t believe it. After all her brother’s long preparations, after all his certainty that he’d be chosen, almost everyone in the town had come to believe it, too. After all, compared to his frail sister, what other choice could there be?

Even Tawney, who’d always been ready to face reality mentally, if not physically, couldn’t help crying.

Even Arnold, the chooser, who should know best of all that there was a fifty/fifty chance for it to be Tawney looked surprised. Even his voice, normally powerful, sounded deflated as he called again. “Tawney Firestone, please step forward.”

(more…)