For a while, Nolan wouldn’t speak to me. He just sat in the moss, shadows lengthening on his face as he rocked slowly and rubbed at his forehead. He’d long ago rubbed the red painted ward against evil off his brow, but he couldn’t stop touching it, trying to get rid of it. His skin was almost as red as the paint. And it was driving me crazy.
“Stop doing that and just tell me what’s wrong!” I snapped, finally losing my temper.
He cringed at my harsh words and buried his face in his hands, moaning with despair. “Bearskins,” he hissed, and my stomach tightened uneasily.
Bearskins were nasty. True to their name, they often wore the skins of animals they’d slain–typically bears–and were widely regarded as the worst predators in any forest. And they were found everywhere. They were insidious pests, like blood-sucking ticks, that crept out of nowhere and slowly and subtly grew out of control, devastating an area before suddenly disappearing to infect somewhere else. The lands they ravaged never fully recovered. For they didn’t destroy from the outside, no–the bearskins knew the secrets of the heart, and they attacked brutally from the inside.
I exhaled deeply and dug my fingers in the moss, searching for an anchor. No wonder the lily-slips and the gypsy tribe had been so brutally defeated. The bearskins would have used the two tribes’ weaknesses against them, driving them to fear or anger in order to bring about their downfall.
The one question I had now was why the bearskins would have done something like that. They didn’t fight for pleasure–they weren’t that morbid. They always fought for a reason. Sometimes they needed food, or hunting weapons, or land, so they would raid and pillage to get what they wanted. But none of those could be the reasons for these attacks. The gypsy tribe didn’t have extra food, any weapons, or even a fixed territory. And the lily-slips were insectivores, had poorly made weapons and tools, and lived on sparse and poor land.
The bearskins’ reasons would have to be more than just the need to survive. Either the gypsies, or the lily-slips, or both had something the bearskins wanted. If it came between giving the bearskins what they wanted or fighting them in an outright war, I thought it might be better to just give them what they wanted and be done with it.
Nolan was still in distress, dragging his fingers through his dark, messy hair, and I spoke his name to settle him. “Nolan, please. I need you to go back to the chieftain and ask him why the bearskins are attacking them.” I tried to convey my urgency with my tone of voice, and he seemed to hear it, lifting his head to look at me. “I think they have something the bearskins want, so ask what it might be. Okay?”
Nolan inhaled shakily, his chest shuddering, but then nodded quickly and stood. Even his legs were trembling as he walked back towards where the gypsy tribe was preparing for the night. I watched him go with a cold hard knot sitting in my gut. This was bad. Bearskins were a problem I’d never had to face before, but the stories I’d heard were plenty enough to make me understand that fighting them off would be no easy task.
Maybe even impossible.
I propped my head on my hands and stared at the shadowed moss, thinking of every dark and gruesome fact I knew about the bearskins. I was lost in a tangle of terror when soft footsteps brought me back to reality.
I turned, and there in the silvery moonlight was a tall, thin old woman, her body adorned in downy blue-grey feathers. She had a necklace with three linked stone rings on it, the centre ring holding a piece of pink quartz in the middle. She watched me with bright yellow eyes and a wrinkled smile.
“Alex, yes?” she asked, her voice rough as the moors.
I nodded and stood, bowing at the waist, enchanted by this gypsy woman. How could I see her, when all the others remained hidden? My eyes were again drawn to the three-ring necklace and I thought I understood. She was the seeress who was supposed to examine me tonight. Of course she would have charms that would reveal herself to me, and make her speech plain. Realizing who she was, I bowed a second time, just a little bit deeper.
“Are you ready?” she asked, pulling an elegant silver wand from a sash around her waist.
Closing my eyes briefly, I nodded.
Wow, so it’s been just about forever since I last updated LotSF, but here it is! Better late than never, right?
But I’ve got more vision for it now than I did when I last wrote, and I intend to write it with more dedication, so I don’t end up with such wide gaps between chapters.
Aaaanyways. It’s really cold here. Like, super cold. Tomorrow’s supposed to feel like -40°C with the wind chill… Yikes.
Bundle up, everyone, if you live somewhere cold. I know that’s what I’ll be doing :S
How’s the weather?
May you have warmth and comfort throughout the night, no matter where you live.