Another chapter of The Wolf Pack.
Kimi crept silently out of the house. She paused to listen with bated breath as the outside door creaked slightly as she opened it, but the house remained silent, her parents and brothers fast asleep. Carefully, she closed the door and hoisted her pack onto her shoulders and slipped away into the night.
Once she had reached the enclosure containing the horses, she opened the gate to allow the animals to run free. She regretted doing this, but it would delay any search for her as the horses would need to be caught first, both to mount a pursuit and for the safety of the animals. She offered a prayer to Grillon, the god of wild things, to keep his creatures away from the beasts during the time they were free. The animals seemed reluctant to leave the enclosure, so Kimi got down from the fence where she had climbed and whacked the lead stallion on the rump. He whickered in indignation, but at another whack, he galloped through the open gate, followed by the mares, geldings and foals. Only then did Kimi turn her attention to leaving. She looked at the house that had been her home for all her seventeen years. She was sure she was doing the right thing, even though her parents had told her it was wrong. Davrael was an honourable man, and his father was a chief, not that that would mean anything now since his father was as adamant they should not marry as were her own parents.
Kimi had met Davrael six months before when he had rescued her from the war party of an enemy tribe who had abducted her from her home. He had returned her to her parents, who were very grateful, but not before the pair had fallen in love. Unfortunately, the settled people, who were horselords that had decided they could rear better horses by settling in one place, were mistrusted by the wandering bands, and vice versa. So both Davrael’s father and Kimi’s parents refused permission for the couple to marry. In fact, they went further. Both groups forbade the match and told the pair that they would disown them if they went ahead. The lovers managed to meet as frequently as possible in secret, a difficult task when Davrael was wandering the plains following his tribe’s horses, and eventually they had agreed that the only way for them to be together was to leave the land of their birth entirely. So they had planned to meet a mile from Kimi’s home in the forest clearing where they had so often met before.
Kimi had never been able to really believe that Davrael had fallen in love with her. She was not pretty, but she had glossy, dark brown hair worn long and in two braids over her shoulders in the manner of the horselord women. Her eyes were hazel and her nose small. She always felt that her mouth was too large for the rest of her face, but it was well shaped and always ready to smile. She was a tiny girl, barely five feet and slender as a reed with small, neat breasts and boyish looking hips. Davrael on the other hand was a handsome and fierce looking warrior of the Swooping Hawk tribe. As the son of the chief and the probable next chief, he had, tattooed on his face, the image of a hawk. Its wings swept over his eyebrows with its fierce head along his straight nose, looking down at its prey, its feet spread ready to pounce, on his cheeks. At first glance, he was a frightening sight, but those who looked closely could see a kindness in his brown eyes. He was about five feet ten and had a muscular figure with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He was carrying no fat at all and his muscles were hard as iron with the life he led as a nomadic herder. His hair, a dark brown, similar in colouring to Kimi’s but a little lighter, was worn loose about his shoulders and kept from his eyes by a leather headband. Both wore leather leggings and fringed leather tunics over woollen shirts in a similar brown colour. Davrael had a dark green cloak and Kimi a brown one.
The couple had chosen this night to elope, because the moon, Lyndor was three quarters full. Ullin, although just past full, had set by the time Kimi left. There would be sufficient light for them to see their way, and thus travel more quickly, but not so much that they would show up too clearly if they were followed quickly. Also, the omens were good, for full moons meant good things to come. If either of them were concerned by the fact that Ullin was in truth just beginning to wane, meaning that there were good things, but passing and transitory, they did not think of it. They were just too happy that they were at last going to be in each other’s company forever.
Kimi approached the forest clearing cautiously. At first, she could see nothing, and she felt a moment of fear that Davrael was not there. She knew that if he did not arrive, it would be because something had happened and her heart seemed to falter in her breast at the thought. Then she heard a soft jingle of harness and the gentle harrumph of a horse. When she looked to her right, she saw, in the shadows, someone holding the reins of two horses, a bay gelding and a dappled grey mare.
Davrael. She breathed a sigh of relief, and at that slight sound, the man turned and, letting go of the horses, ran towards her and swung her up in his arms before kissing her soundly.
Kimi laughed with pleasure at seeing her beloved, but there was no time to waste. Davrael quickly fetched the horses and the pair leaped on to them and set off at a steady canter towards the west. They headed for the pass through the mountains the Grosmerians called the Western Mountains, but the people of the plains called The Barrier, since it kept the people from the east away from their lands. The horselords rode bareback, eschewing such things as saddles. They also had no use for bits on their mounts’ bridles, considering it a violation of the horse and a symbol of slavery for their beloved animals.
They rode on until it was nearly dawn, through wooded land that slowly began to become hillier towards the east. Soon they decided that enough distance had been put between themselves and any followers so they stopped by a stream, and tended to their horses before anything else. Only then did they run into each other’s arms.
As they sunk down onto the grass, Davrael said, ‘We can’t stay too long in one place, little Mouse. They’ll have found out you’re missing by now I expect, or will do very shortly. We have about six hours start on them, that’s all, and they’ll be on fresh horses. If we sleep here for long, they’ll be on us. The horses need to rest though, and I needed to hold you, if only for a short time.’
Kimi smiled at her lover. ‘I think they may be longer than you think in mounting a pursuit, Davrael. They’ll have to find and catch the horses first.’
‘You let the horses out? Clever girl. But we must still limit our time here. I couldn’t bear to lose you after all we’ve been through.’
‘Nor I you, my darling,’ replied the girl.
So they spent the next few days travelling ever eastward. They came to the pass over the mountains, and here they slowed. The passes were treacherous at the best of times, and it was winter still. Snow sometimes blocked the passes, and they both hoped they would be lucky and get through. The skies were leaden above them, heavy with more snow. Snow lay on the ground and banked up on the windward side of rocks and trees. The mountains of The Barrier towered over the pass through which they rode. The horses were gallantly plodding their way through the snow of the high pass, obedient to their riders’ demands. Davrael and Kimi were also cold. Very cold. It was the month of Majordar, which was the middle month of winter, which had begun with the solstice. Only now did Davrael think that maybe their haste had been ill considered, and wondered if they would have been better to have waited until spring arrived.
‘Davrael Swooping Hawk! Don’t you ever think such a thing,’ Kimi told him angrily when he ventured to say this one very cold night. ‘I would prefer to die here with you than live a moment longer in the comfort of my own home, if it meant I was living without you. I love you, and want to be with you all the time, no matter what the discomforts and hardships.’
Davrael sighed at her reply. ‘I’m sorry I said that, Mouse,’ he replied, ‘But I hate to see you so cold and hungry. I love you too much to bear the thought of you dying, even if I were to die with you, and I can’t live without you.’
So they clung together for warmth, and snuggled nearer to the fire, covered with furs and endured yet another night of cold.
The next morning, the pass began to descend towards Grosmer, and as they came to lower lands, they began to feel a little warmer, the bitter wind seemed blocked by the mountain range, and there was a little less snow. After a couple of days journeying, they found themselves at the walls of a town.
Neither of them had seen a town like Eribor before. There were few towns in their lands, and those that there were, were more a conglomeration of wooden huts, rather than true towns. This town, however, was built of stone. There were stone walls surrounding it, and a large stone keep. As they passed through the gates the guard stopped them. He demanded they state their business. They were under suspicion as Davrael’s tattoo of a hawk stooping on its prey, which he proudly wore on his face, marked him out as a horselord of the Swooping Hawk Tribe, and one of some rank too. Kimi was also dressed as a woman of the plains in leather jerkin and trousers and with her hair in braids.
‘What brings the horselords over the Mountains?’ the guard demanded of them. ‘You lot are rarely seen this side of the range.’
They looked at each other. Both had managed to pick up a little Grosmerian, but Kimi, having been a settler, had managed a little more than Davrael since her family had traded from time to time with the people of Grosmer. The couple had decided that she would do most of the talking, but what should she say? If they said they were fugitives and outcast, they would undoubtedly be thrown into jail and thus separated if only until the law could run its due course. Then again, if they said they were running away from their parents to get married, they may be detained and returned. A consideration they could not contemplate.
‘We are on an important errand for Davrael’s father, the Chief of the Swooping Hawk Tribe,’ lied Kimi. ‘We are taking a message to Hambara for him.’
Kimi said the name of the only other town she knew of in Grosmer. Many years ago, her grandfather had travelled to that city, but Kimi could not remember why.
‘Do you have a copy of this message to show me to confirm this?’
‘Horselords no writing,’ Davrael put in, in halting Grosmerian, but looked at the guard with his most haughty expression. He truly did look like the son of a chief at that moment, and the guard quailed before his gaze.
‘Well, I suppose it will be all right to let you in. You look as if you need rest and food. There’s an inn just on the right, about fifty yards from the gate. It’s clean and not too expensive. It’s called the Invisible Mage. The sign has a picture of a mage on it.’ he added, remembering that the horselords did not read and write. ‘He’s perfectly visible, even though the inn’s called the Invisible Mage, but I suppose it would be difficult to draw an invisible person, wouldn’t it?’
He laughed at his own wit, and opened the gate to allow them entry to the town.
As they entered, Davrael turned to Kimi. ‘I think we’ll have to sell one of the horses, Mouse,’ he said. ‘We’ve no Grosmerian coins and we’ll have to pay for somewhere to stay and we have to eat too.’
‘Oh, Davrael,’ exclaimed Kimi in dismay. She knew just what it would mean to him to sell one of his beloved horses. Horselords lived for their animals, and measured their wealth by the quality and quantity of their beasts. He was right, though. They had no money. In their land, all marketing was done on a system of barter. In the end, they decided to sell the gelding and to keep the mare as long as possible. If they could manage to keep her, they could use her as breeding stock once they got settled.
They led their horses through the streets. Sure enough, as the guard had told them, there was the Invisible Mage, but more important, right opposite was a livery. Davrael turned and led the horses through the gate.
‘We would like to sell this gelding,’ Kimi said to the man.
He turned to the horse and looked it over. He gave it a thorough examination to ensure himself it was sound, then turned to Kimi and said, ‘He’s not worth much, you know.’
Kimi understood about bargaining. She had seen the gleam in the man’s eye when he looked at the animal. It was a fine creature. One of the best the man had seen, she did not doubt, although not one of the best of Davrael’s father’s horses she knew. To take one of his tribe’s finest animals would not be Davrael’s way. So she bargained with the man and eventually got what she considered too low a price for such a magnificent animal, but it was obvious the man was not going to go any higher, so with money jingling in a pouch, they made their way over to the Invisible Mage.
They spent a couple of nights in the town, and were excited by all the new sights and sounds and smells of the place. However, they eventually decided they were not far enough away from the border where a pursuing party might come when they decided that the couple must have crossed The Barrier. They would be easy to find, as they were so distinctive. So they rode out, continuing in an easterly direction towards Hambara.
They had few solid plans, but Davrael thought they might have more of a chance of finding work in a larger town. They walked and rode for the next few days, taking it in turns to ride Moonbeam, as Kimi had named the dappled mare, and resting either in inns or friendly farms when available, or sleeping rough when not. They paid with the money they had obtained from the sale of the gelding, and were forced to consider the possibility of having to sell Moonbeam. Kimi had become very fond of the mare on their journey and regretted they may have to sell her.
One day, as the couple was travelling through wooded country and it was getting dusk, they found themselves in a clearing, so decided to rest for the night. It was the last night of Majordar, and bitterly cold. An easterly wind was blowing from the Mountains of Doom, bringing a promise of a freezing night. There was a spring in the clearing, turning into a small stream which gurgled its way through the trees on its way to join the Avrimar, the river that passed close to Eribor, and hence to the Inner Sea by way of the Mistmere. They lit a fire to try to keep some of the cold at bay and to cook the last of their provisions, bought from a friendly farmer the previous day, and then settled down close to the fire to rest.
Suddenly, Kimi became aware of a growing light in the clearing. She opened her eyes, thinking that it could not possible be dawn yet, they had only just got to sleep. The clearing seemed to be filled with a soft golden light, and a feeling of peace and calm stole over her. She felt Davrael stir at her side, and then sit up and look around. The voice came then, soft and gentle.
It was a deep male voice, and it said, ‘Kimi, Davrael, my children. Do not be afraid, but approach the spring.’
They looked at each other and stood. The voice, although kind and gentle seemed to command their obedience so they walked hand in hand to the spring, which now seemed to look more like a beautiful fountain to their eyes. They did not see the figure at first, but then he spoke again.
‘You are blessed, my children. Love such as yours is a wonderful and rare thing. You have both given up much to be together, and you will be rewarded. I believe you wish to be committed to each other for the rest of your lives?’
‘Who are you?’ they both said at once. ‘And how do you know who we are?’
‘That matters not,’ the voice replied. ‘Do you wish to vow each other eternal love and fidelity?’
The shadowy figure stepped forward and they saw a man dressed as a scribe, carrying a scroll and a pen. He had white hair, but his face did not look old, and he was wearing a purple robe, the colour worn by the clerics of Zol, the god of learning and the consort of Kassilla, the chief deity.
After exchanging a brief look, the young couple replied in the affirmative.
‘Step forward to the spring,’ commanded the cleric.
This they did, and he asked them to speak their promises to each other.
‘Say whatever is in your heart,’ he told them, and I will record it on the scroll. Davrael began. He looked deep into Kimi’s eyes and said, ‘Kimi, my little Mouse, I promise you that I will always love you. I will give my life for you if that is necessary. I will never love another. You are my reason for living, and without you I am incomplete. This I swear before the gods themselves.’
Then Kimi replied, ‘Davrael, my one and only love, I swear before all the gods that I have never loved anyone else the way I love you. I will remain faithful to you for my entire life. Even if you should die before me, I will remain faithful to your memory, and if I should die before you, I will wait for you beyond the veil until we can go on or be reborn together.’
Their promises made, the strange man then said, ‘Enter the fountain together, and be bathed in its waters.’
After they had done so, the scribe smiled at them both, then became more serious. ‘Your promises have been noted and are irrevocable. You can now consider yourselves married. Your lives will not be easy my children.’ he went on. ‘You will face tragedy, but you will also know great happiness, and as you share your great love, you will also come to know great friendship too. You have a task before you. It will not be easy, but you have each other’s love to aid you. Go in peace, my children.’
With that, the figure disappeared. Kimi thought she heard glorious music for a while, but then that too faded. The pair looked around and to their surprise, the winter glade had become transformed by a profusion of spring flowers, which were definitely not there before. The newly married couple then returned to their bed by the fire, silently wondering exactly what had just happened.
The next morning, when they awoke, Kimi related a strange and beautiful dream to Davrael. Oddly, he too seemed to have had the same dream. They rose and went to wash in the stream. Half way there, Kimi stopped and silently pointed to their surroundings. There in the glade were hundreds of spring flowers.
‘Could it have been real, Davrael?’ she whispered. ‘Who was that man?’
Her new husband put his arm around her and hugged her to him. ‘I think, my little Mouse, we have been in the presence of one of the gods. I think that Zol himself has married us.’