Awhile later deeper into the forest, as they were quickly making their way down a steep where there were fewer trees, there was a growl and a sound of laboring wings. Alexis looked up, and handed Oren to Rylan, who held him securely.
Eitan landed awkwardly in a space in the trees that was just barely big enough for him. A big branch snapped off one as he tried to moved his wings back. Alexis skidded the rest of the way down the slope to him and put her hand on his snout.
“Good to have you back, boy,” she said, giving him a peck of a kiss and patting him. She scratched his chin, one of his favorite spots.
She then directed him beside a stream a short distance below them, down the slopes, and there cleansed and disinfected his wounds. The others stood a ways off, Resen diligently watching the landscape on a knoll while the others watched a little closer to them.
Eitan lay quietly while Alexis was ministering to him. Once Alexis was done she rose, and he got sorely to his feet.
“Rylan, please come here,” Alexis called.
“I don't think I will. I like the distance where I'm at very well.”
“Don't be a wuss, and please bring Oren. I wouldn't want Eitan to think he can eat him.” She patted Eitan again then looked back at Rylan.
“Might want to do as she says. The better off you are with him, the easier it'll be for you,” Resen reasoned, still keeping his eyes open.
Rylan looked from Resen to Eitan again, then almost temperamentally got off his horse, and cautiously approached.
“Can you hand me Oren?” Alexis asked. He handed him over. Oren squawked and flapped his wings in protest. Alexis soothed him.
Eitan looked at Oren with interest. He bent low and sniffed him. His nostrils quivered. Oren croaked loudly and struggled a bit. Eitan tried to sniff closer, but Alexis carefully kept her hand at a decent distance.
“Hold out your hand,” Alexis told Rylan, who was standing off. Almost looked like he had been looking for a chance to bolt.
Rylan held out his hand, slowly and cautiously. Eitan sniffed him, growled loudly for a moment, and drew back, glaring at Rylan.
“I don't think this is a good start,” Rylan mumbled.
“Well he's not trying to eat you,” Alexis retorted. “Here,” she said, handing him back Oren. “Just be polite. He'll not harm you if you're my friend.” She then left them together, secretly relishing the look on Rylan's face. It had been one thing for him to sneak up on him while sedated—another to be standing in front of his gleaming teeth. But she had to give it to him—he was making a truly valiant effort. At least from a few feet away.
They mounted again.
Later on while on the trail, Rylan began the conversation.
“We may not have a very easy time convincing the Delfians and Norandin tribe to take up arms and defend the Ranges, what with there being strife between them again. They're fighting over land, as always. But perhaps with your presence, they might be able to settle things. You seem to have an effect on people”
“That's nice, but I really wish people could settle things themselves. Especially after so long a time, for goodness sake,” Alexis replied, a little irritably.
“Their agreements never last long. They have both have had land taken from them, and they both want what they feel is theirs. You might, at least, bring peace between them. They are two different types of people, but they've managed to exist as uneasy neighbors so far. Neither of them want bloodshed from each other, but some has been shed in the past. And their relations are steadily wearing down.”
“After all you did accept the request to go,” Raena said.
They all looked at her.
“What are you lookin' at me, for? What did you think I'd say? No? Of course not. And I meant what I said.”
“I have friendly relations there,” Rylan said. “I was once in the area and I warned them of an ambush by wandering Raven bands being set for their area, and that knowledge saved many. I've gained their trust, so it will be that much easier for us. At least you can be grateful for that.” Rylan smiled at her.
Alexis rolled her eyes, trying to suppress a smile.
Later Alexis got up on Eitan and he continued to follow the rest of them, and wondered what she was in for now. She seemed to be taking things headfirst and without qualm more and more. Her road seemed to rush along without pause, and she now just flew on full force, wherever the mysterious current that drove her went. Before she really thought of where a new direction her life was going, she was in the middle of it. Compared to now her and Resen's trek through western Aunninguld had been almost peaceful and quiet. Since Ethen'dor she had covered so many miles, seen so many things...things that would not fade with time.
They weaved through the forest in a northerly direction for awhile, until they came upon a thick, rocky region where they turned northwest until the going got easier. For the next two days it was the same.
That evening they sat around the campfire with little bits of stew in their hands. Ashling began to tell them about his family history, and those concerned, especially the Sepharad.
“My great-great grandparents grew up in the western region of Hausk, in Glalthen. Raven life is very nasty. They were bow makers, and they handed down the trade. All of the people get sent to the camps at a young age, and would come back steeped with that even harsher enviroment. The eyes of some even seem blacker. The most enthusiastic, which are many, sew feathers into their skin and file their teeth to points like an animal. The Raven race continues to follow Belamoth because Bela is the incarnation of everything they love: violence and blood-lust, the ravenous craving for slaughter and ruin. They believe that with Bela becoming the ruler of the world, they will have all the world to satisfy their lust.
“Some believe that Belamoth is the unmistakable, rightful ruler of the world, who will choose to overcome those that have always stood in defiance when the time is right. That it could be at any moment, only Belamoth has purposes that must be achieved before then. They do not question. They do not think of the possibility of something at hand. Except for a few. Some have asked the fatal question of why or what for...and died for it. They were killed by their own flesh and blood. Some escaped...for them I am happy.
“The parents of my great-great grandfather were in the middle. They wanted to ask, but they also wanted to stay loyal to the all powerful Belamoth that had lived for so long and defied all challenge. So...they did nothing. But sometimes a thing can be seen without it being said. They felt the glances from their fellows when they turned their backs, and knew that something was coming. So they told my great-great grandfather to go into the woods for tribe hunting, pretend that it was a regular day, where others escaping would be waiting. He did. He was six years old. At night after the group had escaped, he came back to see his parents' bodies strung up on a lancing pole, where tormentors cut off their flesh, impaled them, and left them for the ravens and crows. The Ravens called them traitors as they did their bloody work on their already dead bodies. He returned to the escapees, before he was missed. He was a very clever boy...even the soldiers were astounded by his stealth and swiftness. It was just in him. He never went back. What he saw changed him. I became a warrior among the forming Sepharad, and was very valiant in battle. His sole purpose was to stop the Ravens, and once he met my great-great grandmother, to have a good family to help carry on the Sepharad.”
“What made his parents question Belamoth?” Alexis asked intently, still holding her bowl though it had long been empty.
“I don't know...what makes anyone start questioning the culture they have known and supported? I know they saw others disappearing. People they knew and trusted, to a degree at least. I guess they were among the few that had a tiny seedling of humanity in them. They snuck around places where most were forbidden. They learned what happened to some of them. It...it was awful. Those that were not killed were either imprisoned until they died, or worse. Turned into something totally inhuman. Like some kind of sick experiment. But their instinct told them to bide their time until the moment was right.”
“Are there any other bands?” Resen asked.
“There is one other that I know of, but they are a troubled tribe. They lack good organization and direction. They are the ones constantly fighting for land within Delfian, to the north. They haven't put themselves against any endeavors of Belamoth, but I can understand. One cannot fight when they themselves are not founded. But perhaps they will do their part in the revolution.”
“I didn't realize their origin,” Raena said in surprise. “I can't say that I've ever heard of it. But perhaps I just never asked the right questions.”
“No everyone knows it,” Ash went on. “There are lot of things that the whole world does not know, when it is obvious to others. Sometimes the circle of life just moves that way.”
“Do you know the whereabouts of Crow and whatever army he has left?” Resen asked seriously, changing the subject.
“He still keeps to his fortress in Urul'una, licking his wounds. We heard from spies a few stragglers of his new army passed on word to a higher lord of his defeat, but much of his own original army still resides in the Fogged Woods. Everyone now knows it was the Athondul that had thwarted Lord Shalgotha.”
“If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?” Raena asked. “How long have you been a leader among the Sepharad?”
“I'm twenty and one, and I've served for...six years now.”
“Really?” Alexis said in surprise. “I expected you to be older.”
“Especially considering your rank,” Resen commented, before he took a bite of stew. “What are your skills?” he asked after he was done chewing.
“I'm an archer, primarily, but I'm deft at quick swordplay and I am a sharp hunter. They are traits that helped land me in such a position. I have a way at gaining people's trust, and Lord Othorn, the head man before Lord Daoro, found that a critical trait in a leader, so I quickly moved up through the ranks. I've been in our army since I was really young. I always felt the pull of fighting for what I believed in.”
They all grew silent and finished their stew. Alexis quickly ate in silence, thinking about their situation and what she felt herself.
Shortly after they all decided to go to sleep, and settled close to the fire's warmth. Eitan snorted in the brush behind Alexis, stirring in his dreams. Oren had settled comfortably in a patch of lichen on a pile of boulders, and was peacefully sleeping. Before closing her eyes, Alexis looked at them all, realizing what a circle they made.
The next morning they got up before the crack of dawn and made a quick breakfast of what meat they had, and some roots that Rylan had found.
“Thanks,” Alexis said, when she saw the roots.
“No problem.” He began shaving them into the pan with his knife. “Got to do my part.”
Alexis sat beside him as she tended the cooking meat. He gave her a small smile which she returned, and she watched him prepare the roots. She looked at his hair. It was pulled back by the scarf, but she noticed a short stubby ponytail at the base of his neck, where his dark hair curved down.
“You like my hair-do?” Rylan asked with a sly smile.
“Yeah, it's stylish. Is it a Raven style?” Alexis teased.
“Oh good heavens no. Don't insult me with lack of taste! Though pretty much the only Ravens that do their hair are the females—if they have any. And even then it's a mess.”
“What were the women like?”
“Same as men. Bloodthirsty wretches. Similar to the Rashid that were saw in Thysatira. They go into Belamoth's service, although most were held for...reproduction of soldiers. I've never asked that far...I didn't want to know. What I do is enough...the whole Raven race lives like animals. They're a bloody race, where relation means nothing whatsoever.”
“It's a wonder they haven't all killed each other off.”
“People are like that. They still require stability of a sort, a structure of life. Killing everyone off wouldn't make sense. Their life as they like it would be changed. They're selfish and cruel beyond imagining, but they want their way of life to stay as it is.”
“I'm glad my world isn't like that,” Alexis said, hugging her knees.
“Is it not?” Rylan asked, giving her a serious look.
Alexis suddenly paused, unsure what to say. Was her world essentially different? And what did she know of how life went on beyond her little hometown, with its own problems?
Alexis thought on those things as she sat there, with Oren on her shoulder as Rylan went on with the meal.
Shortly they ate, and while they quickly put the last of it into their mouths Alexis noticed at Ash's hip was a scimitar in a beautifully detailed ivory scabbard, along with a queer looking knife. It had a short handle, and the blade went up to a point but had thick, curving claws at the base and tip, with a spike in the middle of the blade. A curving spike was at the tip, curving in the opposite direction. It looked extremely painful.
Later on at midday when they paused briefly to refill at the Shynie River Rylan called Alexis over. Eitan growled jealously as she left off scratching him. Rylan sat on a rock and unsheathed his scimitar.
“I saw you looking at it while we were walking. Would you like to hold it?” he asked. He held it in his hands as he held it out to her.
“Yes, thank you,” Alexis answered, stepping forward and taking it. The handle was of a light golden color, the hilt melded into two angled wings for the pommel. The guard and base was of a curved triangle of green, gold, and red mosaic. The blade was curved with the appearance of rippling water.
“It's a watered blade,” Rylan explained. “My grandfather made it. He was a master wielder, besides a great warrior.”
“It's a beautiful sword,” Alexis admired, swinging it gently. She gave it back. Rylan sheathed it then took out his bow. “My father made this. It's the best bow I've ever seen made by our kind. I never use any other.”
Alexis took it and tested the string. The bow's design was carved in the subtle likeness of wind gusts, with feathers almost discreetly placed here and there. “It's very nice. As good as mine.”
“Sure. Mine was made by Durke of Langor.”
“Hmm. A gift, I suppose?”
“Yes. They gave it to me after I accepted the challenge to go and look for the Langor Stone.” She handed him back the bow.
Rylan whistled. “Well, I didn't hear that one. Did you find it?”
“Yes—and that's where I found my Eitan. He was just hatched.”
“Lucky for him.”
“Lucky for me. I couldn't have come through certain things without him. When I found the Stone, in return King Flinir gave me Tryconda,” she added, showing him the ring.
Rylan leaned forward with interest and whistled softly. “Well, I didn't expect that either. So you were actually able to pry it off his finger, eh? Well good for you.”
“It was a part of the deal.”
“Yes, of course.” Rylan smiled teasingly.
Alexis pointed to his knife. “Where did you get that?” she asked.
“It's a special knife we Sepharad make. It's a throwing knife.” He took it out and demonstrated by flinging it at a tree. It flashed through the air and struck the tree with a sickening thud.
“That would really hurt,” Alexis said, staring at it.
“It's made so that wherever it strikes, always the target will be met with a blade,” Rylan said emphatically.
“It's time to get going,” Resen said, getting up a few yards away. He waited for them for a moment, then went on. He seemed increasingly quiet as the days went by, Alexis thought.
Quietly, they continued on their swift journey toward Delfian's plains.