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Day 11 — Dear Diary, I am heart sore and weary. We had our first battle today and thank Ehlonna, I did not have to fire a shot in anger. All the same, we did draw blood and kill. More on that later — it is hard to write simply about it. I’ll begin at the beginning, as the bards say….
The road out of Diamond Lake town was easy. The streets are well laid and maintained. We passed houses, great and small. I stayed at the rear of the group. An elder of my village had been an adventurer in his day and old Owain had given me much advice on how to best be a healer to a group of adventuring fools, as he put it. “Stay at the back, child. Watch their moves and get to know the personalities. Learn who is cautious and who is a fool for battle. Some will seek your favor and others will curse you for your kindness and healing. Heed them not! It matters little what they think of you. Your job is to keep them alive. They don’t have to like you. Aye, or even thank you. Will you thank them for every head they cleave?” He smiled, patted my knee and said, “You’ll do fine, young Ariel. Just fine.” I had thought to ask him more, but he stood and turned to sort a pile of papers, so I knew my time with him was ended.
As we left the town proper, the road began to climb, and the pathway became dirty and rocky. I was surprised to see Zuffy, the other half elf, walking beside me. “I worship Ehlonna, too, you know. I’m glad that you’re in the group.” I nodded, bit my tongue to keep from hurling angry words at her and wondered why she was talking with me. She spoke again. “I think I may have gotten off on the wrong foot with you last night. I, I think I made a joke about your virginity and look, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how young you are and –” I held up my hand. “Stop, please. Really. I had taken offense at your words, but only because I thought that you were speaking of our Lady, Ehlonna. It matters not what you say or think of me.” I realized that this didn’t sound friendly, Diary. So I started again. “What I mean to say is ‘Thank you for your kindness.’” She smiled. “Perhaps, we can pray together tonight. Give thanks to the Goddess for our safe arrival at the cairns.” She waved her hand. “Because, look! We’re here.”
I noticed Grriel standing by a cairn. It was much of a height with her. “OK, so this is a cairn! I like it. Rocks. On top of other rocks.” In the resulting silence, we all heard the murmur of voices. “Ha!” said Vakka. “They whisper!” I heard Zuffy sigh beside me and murmur “Well, yeah! That’s why they call them the Whispering Cairns.”
It was a passage way of cairns. They made a road of sorts that looped up and around the hill. I paused to look around. On the desolate hill top, it was quite pretty. Or maybe that’s not the right word, Diary. It was beautiful, in a sad way. The rocks, the sparse grass, the wind and sky. I felt…. something stir inside me. Like I was marking this moment in time.
My thoughts were broken by the sound of Lilly yodeling. “Listen! Isn’t this cool?” The group was milling about and looking at the different cairns along the road. Some stones were a lovely deep purple. Chica rode her chicken up ahead. “Don’t go too far!” I called out to her. The other gnome, Kerboom, followed in her wake. As she passed Lilly, that one said, “Where ya going? I’m going too!” In a matter of moments, I was alone on the hilltop. “Right.” I muttered to myself. I was angry, Diary. But as I examine my heart here, at the end of the day, what right do I have to be angry with my new companions? They are a flock and I am their shepherd……. Hmm, I like that.
I rounded the corner and saw the mouth of a cave. Oh Ehlonna! A cave? To be cut off from the sun? What a fate! What if I should die in the darkness? Those were my thoughts and I am not ashamed to record them here, for your eyes only, dearest Diary. If it is weakness, then I am weak! If it is the folly of youth, well, so be it!
I steeled my courage, as Father would say, and entered the cave. As I stepped into darkness I heard someone call out for a light. I remembered my oil lamp. “Here!” I hurried forward and saw Mawley and Grriel standing by the cave wall. I handed my lamp to Mawley and as she lit it, the wall was illuminated. It was …. astounding. The walls were carved with swirling tubes and deep crevasses. The murmur of voices was louder here. I heard Zuffy beside me. “That’s not Elven, for sure.”
“Not Orcish or Kobol, either” said Vakka. Kerboom squeezed between Mawley and Grriel. “Let’s see…. hmmm. Hmmmmm. Not Gnomish. Not Draconic….. althoooooough, (she drew out the word so long, Diary). Although there are some elements that remind one of Draconic.” She cocked her head. “A softer intonation, perhaps? I just can’t….” The cave was suddenly filled with the sound of Lilly’s voice. “Haloooooooo! Halooooooo!” Mawley laughed and stepped close to the wall. She put her mouth to one of the tubes. “Hello yourself!” And the echo: “Elf, elf, elf”
I heard Chica say “How far do you think this goes?” And then she said “Oh.” Her tone put me on alert but before I could react, Zuffy strode past me on her long legs. Diary, she is taller than me, if you can believe it!
I saw her squat near Chica and speak softly. Grriel had noticed the movement. We all heard the low growl coming from deeper in the cave. Vakka and Grriel both quickly covered the distance to Chica. Right behind them came Lilly. “What? What?” I heard her ask. And then “Puppy!”
Oh Goddess, I thought and hurried up to the group. As I got there, I saw that Grriel had stepped in front of Chica. Vakka was at her right hand but,
damn, darn, Lilly was right beside Vakka. On the front line, as they say. Grriel growled at the wolf and Vakka and Lilly joined in. The wolf turned and slunk away. “Ha ha! That’s the way. Run little puppy! Run from us!” Lilly danced a little as she called out.
“I think perhaps –” my words were cut off by a howl ahead in the darkness. A large dark form suddenly charged from the shadows and went straight for Lilly. With amazing speed for such a big woman, Grriel stepped in front to take the attack. The wolf chomped down on her arm and she swung it away and aimed her crossbow. I felt movement on my left and Mawley ran by, followed by little Kerboom, crossbow in her hand. Yes! Get your weapon out! I said to myself. I couldn’t see very well, what with the half-orcs up front, but it sounded like a whole pack of wolves to me. I heard Lilly yell in pain and Grriel grunt. I stopped my movement to get the longbow ready and reached for my horn and my healer’s kit.
“Lilly?” I knelt behind her. “Step back! Where are you hurt?” Even though she was still facing, oh Goddess, three wolves! I knew that I could at least magic some healing on her. Bandages would have to come later.
“What? Let go!” She shrugged away my hand and I could feel the muscles ripple under my hand. I had no idea she was so strong. Even kneeling, I could see over her shoulder so I saw Grriel get attacked by two wolves at once and saw Mawley swing her axe at those same animals. I saw blood spray out and I was moving to my left, to Grriel without conscious thought. Vigor, a voice in my mind said. And so I cast the vigor spell on Grriel. For a good solid, vigor spell, you want to be able to place both hands on the victim. Grriel, somehow, was still standing. I reached up and put a hand on each shoulder, the carved unicorn horn cupped in my right hand. I said the first words that came to my mind: “Grow strong, little flower.” And I felt the heat as the spell moved through me to her. Because of my position, I did not see Mawley chop the head off one wolf and in the same swing, cleave the other in two. I heard several arrows fly and bring down the last wolf as it ran.
And, then Diary, our first battle was over. No one died. I didn’t panic (not too much). But the animals. I knelt down for a moment, unsure that my legs would hold me. The blood was slowly spreading. Vakka bent over one wolf. “Dinner time, eh? Eh, cousin? Fancy a wolf steak?” She laughed. Grriel shook her head. “Too early in the day for carnivore. Before lunchtime, I like to eat herbivore, don’t you?” I know what a carnivore is but I am not familiar with the other word. As soon as I can, Diary, I will look it up!
Vakka turned to me. “And you little Ariel? Can I slice a steak for you?” I waved a hand. “I don’t eat flesh, but I, I thank you for your kindness, Vakka.” She frowned. “What? But this is good meat! Don’t listen to Grriel! She has strange notions for a half-orc, but she’s my mother’s sister’s girl and we love her. Not eat meat! Ha.”
“No, truly. I do not eat of the creatures of the forest. When I pledged my life to the Goddess –” Vakka laughed and put an arm around me. “It’s settled then! These are not forest creatures. These (she patted the wall) are stones. Not trees.” She paused. “I guess I can see how you’d get them confused…..” Her voice trailed off. She turned back to her butchery. “I’ll cut extra, in case you get hungry later.” After she was done, she piled the bodies and placed a rock over them. “My first cairn!” She studied it with hands on hips. “Pretty good, eh?”
I stayed where I was — knees on the cool stone and I wanted to cry. Blood had been spilled. Life ended here and no one else seemed to care. I did what I could for the souls of the wolves. “Fuin fallah galad, Ambar en Rana. Lenn amar, van Elen*.” I murmured. “Take them to your bosom, Lady.”
*Darkness before light, [the] fate of [all] wanderers. Journey home[ward] fair star.