»Evalor,« Ramloc said.
»Truly Divine,« Magnus confirmed with his mouth open.
»Have you ever seen something so powerful, Grayden?« asked Shana, who couldn`t take her eyes off the ravine.
»Years ago. I came here with the Royal Army when we were at war with the Eastern Empire.«
»Before you were punished?« Magnus said. »You haven´t been telling us why your order sent you on your way, Shieldmaster.«
»Because in the eyes of my order, i made a mistake. I didn´t follow their orders because i value the surviving of the people i´m with higher than any order given. It´s what the order stands for, a noble goal and i tried to live up to it.«
Shana gave Grayden a sympathetic look.
»It`s all right,« he hesitated a little. »After all, that`s how I met you. I never regretted my decision to join you.«
»Neither did we.« said Ramloc. »Can´t change the past.«
»Let`s find a place to rest and rest for the rest of the day,« said Shana.
»Good idea,« Magnus said.
»Aye,« Ramloc agreed with him.
After setting up their camp, Shana went hunting again.
»Around here nature and its gifts are certainly more scarce. It will take a while for me to kill something for us,« she estimated.
»Shall I accompany you?« offered Ramloc.
»No, don`t bother. I`ll find something.«
»Are you sure?« Grayden asked. Then he whispered in her ear:«We could take time for ourselves again and hunt, we could still hunt.«
»Not here. When we get to Sokakugen, we`ll have plenty of time for ourselves.«
Then they kissed and Shana ran off while Grayden went back to the camp. Meanwhile, Ramloc and Magnus were doing combat exercises. The dwarf just explained that you can`t just carry an axe or hammer from the handle.
»In some situations, you may want to grip higher up, you reduce the range, but this will surprise many opponents. The axe can be handled faster and more precisely. See?« the dwarf just taught.
Magnus took his throwing axes and practiced.
»That was good, Magnus. Not as good as a dwarf, but good for a human being.«
»I´m happy to accept a compliment from an elderly man.«
Ramlocs face turned red.
»Older?« he shouted. »I`ll show you how old I am, you pebble.«
»Ooh, the short…«
But Magnus could not get any further. He looked up and saw only a shadow to jump on himself. Then he had already gotten into a fight with the dwarf. As soon as one of them has a short break and they start to tussle, Grayden thought, as he was walking past the rolling Nordmann-dwarf cluster. But due to the fighting exercises, the long ride and last but not least a great hunger, the tussling soon stopped again. This time they were not only sweaty, but also totally dusty and dirty. Breathing heavily, the two of them let themselves fall to the campfire. Magnus spit out dirt. Ramloc plucked blades of grass from his hair.
»Should`ve joined in, Grayden,« Ramloc suggested.
»No, thanks, I`m thinking about something.«
«So and what do you think about?«
»About this technique Ramloc showed you.«
»Well, the best thing is for you to try it yourself.«
Magnus and the dwarf looked at each other and while Grayden wanted to get another answer, the dwarf attacked the shield master with a battle cry. And there was a second brawl. After many minutes they stopped. Now everyone was sitting at the campfire exhausted.
»A rolling stone gathers no moss,« puffed Ramloc. »That´s what my great-grandfather always said, who`s a big rock and he never got mossy.«
»Your great-grandfather was a rock? I knew you dwarves were born of stones. So it`s not just a rumour,« Magnus remarked.
»Oh, that`s just pure nonsense. As a Nordmann you should know that these rumours are only slander to mock us dwarves. No. We call certain parts of our lives such as pebbles for a young dwarf, often also slate, according to the different species of the earth. Afterwards come stone, granite and basalt. We call the oldest dwarfs obsidians or just hard,«Ramloc explained.
»Why did you say rock?«
»That`s what some call a great warrior.«
»And what about the women? What do you call them?«
Our Vrouwen are named after the precious metals and jewels we extract from the mountains. A young dwarf is called Phyllis. Then comes the age of the gold shimmer, then silver or amethyeira. Then comes the Brynzene and the grey Vrouwen we call Deymantene or Caranthum like the rare metal.«
»Our nations live so close together and yet I know so little about you,« Magnus pondered.
»You`re a pebble too. Young and ignorant. Now is the time when you learn a lot of things and your fire needs to be put into the right shape. so that you can become a brave and honorable dwarf … uh, man.«
Slowly the sun came down and the shadows became longer. The nights were still fresh this spring and Magnus went to look for more firewood. Grayden tried to appreciate the time Shana was hunting and came to the conclusion that she would be back soon. As he looked in the direction in which she had gone, he saw her outline just a few steps away. Shana got something hanging over her back and when she arrived at the fire she threw it on the ground in front of Grayden`s feet.
»Well, that`s some prey you shot Shana,« the Shieldmaster was amazed. »Something other than rabbits and berries.«
»It was already wounded, but for some reason the hunter did not finally kill it,« Shana shrugged.
»Hopefully the previous hunter won`t come to visit us in the middle of the night to get his rightful prey. And us too.«
»I don`t think so. The hunter must have experienced something after he hit the fawn. No one would leave such a loot. I couldn`t find a trace, whatsoever.«
She pointed to a deep wound on the side of the fawn. It was about 20 centimeters long and it didn`t look like a wound caused by a blade weapon like a sword. On the head of the animal the antlers just began to grow. His coat was light brown and on his back it had a black stripe framed by two white stripes. Its size was over one meter in length and height. Shana cut off the hooves and put them a few meters away in the barren land.
»The fur can be easily sold on the market in Sokakugen or we can keep it ourselves. It looks good as a saddle blanket and my old one has already been scrubbed through,« she said.
Then they started to cut up the animal. They laid the fur over a rock to dry. Soon a delicious smell of meat was hanging in the air. Ramloc ran the water in his mouth and his stomach growled. Magnus and Grayden also waited impatiently for the delicious meal which was roasted in front of them. The sun had now set behind the horizon. Night hunters made her howl and went hunting. When the tiredness attacked the group, they divided up the guards as usual and then went to sleep. At night they were only lurked by a jackal-like creature, but Ramloc fled with a skillful stone throw. The hunter who shot the fawn didn`t show himself. The morning arrived and Shana prepared the breakfast. Silently they ate and Shana took the dried coat before they rode on.
The midday was very hot and they searched for the shadow of a rock formation. On their way, Ramloc noticed some outlines in the south. His eyes were the sharpest in the group and they could see twice as far as a person`s eyes. He called Grayden`s attention to this by nodding.
»What do you see?« he asked.
»There are several outlines I can see. Five or six and a smaller one around the larger circles,«he replied.
»Maybe this is the hunter. If wounded, he could hardly defend himself against a pack of lions. Let`s get closer.«
They swung in the direction of the outlines and accelerated their tempo.
Soon they saw what was really going on in front of them.
A little boy was actually surrounded by a pack of lionesses. Some of them growled at their prey, some raised their paws as if they were pointing at the boy. One of the cats stood a little bit apart and watched everything. She stood proudly and her fur had the colour of dark sand. Her eyes were flashed dangerously. They contained an unusual intelligence. She was the first to notice that someone approached her to disturb her in the hunt. She made a growling noise and several cats abandoned the boy. One guarded the boy while the others faced the new threat, six lionesses in total.
»See that?« Grayden asked.
»Yes, these cats are smart. Have you seen how one of them commands the other?«, Shana replied.
»Something about this thing doesn`t appeal to me. Stay alert.«
»There are only a few kittens, what`s so dangerous about them?«, Ramloc mocked.
Shana shot down an arrow in an attempt to frighten away the predators, but the cats of prey refused to be intimidated and stayed where they were. When they jumped off their horses, Magnus warned him.
»Don’t be cocky. The snow cats in the north are tough opponents and many have already underestimated their power and speed and paid with their lives.«
Magnus drew his longsword.
»I need to buy a spear«, he reminded himself.
Ramloc already held his double axe in his hands and Grayden went into attacking position with his bastard sword.
»Listen to Magnus, Ramloc,« warned the Shieldmaster.
But the dwarf jumped towards a lioness.
»Come on, kitty, are you ready to dance?«
With a roar the cat started to attack. She jumped from a standing position to him four meters and hit him with her paws after the dwarf when she landed. He parried the blow with his axe, but the lioness avoided to the left to fall into the dwarf’s side. Ramloc barely escaped the blow and stepped aside.
»Ho Ho, Kitten’ n. You won’t get Ramloc Steelstrike that easily.«
In the background, two arrows were buzzing and hit their target directly into the right eye and shoulder. The lioness went down with a whimpering sound.
Grayden faced his opponent and they began to circle. Flicking, the cat whistled at him. He fought back and struck after the paw, which he failed. The cat sat to the right and jumped. Grayden threw himself to the ground and rolled to the side to appear in the flank of another, who tried to fall into Magnus’ back. Present in his mind he swung his crystal sword and slit the left side of her from shoulder to hind legs. Roaring, the predator collapsed. Still on his knees, the shield master turned to defy his opponent. Lurking, she looked at him and shuddered at the intelligence of the cat. The eldest used this moment to upset him. At the same time his first opponent snatched at him and with the grip of the sword he hit her on the side of the snout. She abandoned him and moved a few meters away.
Magnus was involved in a bloody battle with his lioness. She had already injured him several times and he bled from wounds on his right leg, his right shoulder and a laceration in his eye made him slower but not less attentive. Angry, he held the grip of his sword tighter. Did he just make that up or did the cat grin at him? Ducked, with a paw in front she growled at Magnus. He saw in her eyes that she would jump and missed the right moment. She jumped, Magnus ducked and rammed the sword into her belly. Driven by her own power, she slit open her belly the entire length of the body. Magnus injected a surge of blood into his body.
Now there were only two cats left. They waited with twitching tails for a sign from their leader to attack.
The group stood in front of them and they saw the eldest sitting behind the boy. Shana shot another arrow in the ground in front of the cats. The eldest looked into Grayden’s eyes and he realized that they had won. She gave up. The lioness screamed bloodcurdling. It sounded like a warning. Then she turned around and ran away with the other twos.
»Huh, just run little cat’ n. And don’t you get in my way again or i’ll make some pretty boots out of you.«
»Stop it now,« said Shana.
She went to the boy, knelt down and checked if he was injured. The kid looked at her with big eyes. Magnus and Ramloc praised each other.
»Not bad pebble.«
»Thank you, pebble.«
They bowed to each other and laughed. Grayden stepped next to Shana and the kid.
»What’s a kid like that doing out here in the barren lands? There is no city far and wide, only sunvalley a few days back«, said Grayden
»I don’t know,« said Shana. »Probably belonged to a caravan that was attacked.«
»Or he was dumped by his family because they thought he was a freak. Look, his hair is unusually thick and he’s so sturdy. His eyes are a strange color. A few mountain tribes do this when they think that the gods want to punish them for their sins.«
»That’s terrible, how can you do such a thing to a child?« asked Shana.
»People do things you don’t understand. Not at all, if the fear of the gods is the reason for it,« replied the shield master. »I think it’s all superstition.«
Shana shook her head and took the little one in her arms. He chuckled and tried to reach into her nose.
»What are we gonna do with him?« asked Magnus.
They formed a circle around Shana to inspect her find while she weighed the little one slightly back and forth.
»He has a brave heart and knows no fear. He will be a strong warrior. I didn’t hear him scream all the time. Did you?«, Ramloc asked.
»Are you suggesting we should take him with us?«, Magnus asked back.
»I don`t think we have any other choice,« said Shana.
Grayden was pondering.
»In any case, we should make camp. Your wounds need to be treated, Magnus,« he said. »We can rest at the rocks over there.«
»I`m collecting the skins. Does one of you know how lion tastes like?«, the dwarf asked and set out to get the booty.
The others looked at him in surprise. The little boy grabbed Shana`s hair and played with the beads.
»I`ll help him,« Magnus said, and then he went after him.
Arriving at the rocks, Shana leaned against a rock. Grayden grabbed the feren, fixed them to an improvised post and let them eat the sparsely growing grass. Then he collected wood and made a fire. A short time later, Ramloc and Magnus returned. He proudly laid the skins out to dry and he skewered the thick pieces of meat.
»What are you going to do with the skins?«, Magnus asked. »Boots, waistcoat or a cape?«
»Let`s see. It? s a good piece, I? ll put it under my armor as a cushion. And I`ll put my fangs on my shoulders. I`ll save the rest, reserve or sell it, I don`t know yet.«
»The fur should bring a nice jadei at a market. From the other one, I`ll make a nice cloak for the next winter,«said Magnus. »I`m sure I`ll be well received by the women.«
»Don`t be too sure,« said Shana. »You may make an impression on men, but women are more likely to reject that smell.«
»Then I`ll put the skins in perfume,« he replied.
The fire was burning well and they were eager to taste like lion. Even if no one wanted to give it. It tasted good, even if it was a little tough. Shana put the child on a blanket and then came over to Magnus to heal his wounds.
to be continued