Chapter 3- Aching Heads.
Although I figured the distance back to my ekele correctly, what I forgot to factor in were my new collection of bruises and the fact that my new friend seems to share that feline trait of being able to indefinitely increase one’s weight over a period of time. It’s my personal belief that the feline species have discovered some way to convert air into lead and back again.
This means that by the time I reach the tree that holds my home, I’m red faced and wheezing like a punctured pair of blacksmith’s bellows and it’s all I can do to tell Reeka to pull on the tie that lets down the rope-and-wood ladder.
After a moment’s thought—during which I come to the conclusion that trying to climb up whilst still carrying my unconscious passenger would not only be un-necessarily machoistic (particular since there’s no-one around to appreciate it) but would probably end up killing the pair of us—I also tell my Bondbird to loose the tie holding up the hoist-platform that I use to get large objects—like furniture, or unconscious Changlings—up to my home and it rattles down on it’s thick hempen rope.
With a sigh of relief I put the Changling down onto the platform, as well as my scout-pack, which I have to awkwardly shoulder off as assorted muscles in my back and upper arms protest loudly.
Dawnfrost isn’t here yet, when I said that I would have to Mindspeak her, what I really meant was I’d have to get Reeka to Mindspeak her peregrine falcon, Kiiir, as neither of us have a strong Gift of Mindspeech. In my case, I can Mindspeak to the birds and those close to me—humans and non-humans alike—and Dawnfrost’s Gift seems to mostly be Animal-Mindspeech, although she can reach people if she really pushes herself.
Before I got Reeka to contact Kiiir I gave him strict instructions that he was not to gossip to anyone or anything. The last thing I need is to have half the Vale descend on us.
I manage to make it up the ladder without to much groaning, mainly as Reeka is perched above me making derogatory comments about my hunting and climbing abilities.
Why did I have to get the Bondbird with an over-developed sense of sarcasm?
I reach the small wooden platform that acts as a kind of open-air porch to my ekele and fix my hawk with a stern look. :That is quite enough thank you.: I tell him seriously. Hard to believe he was keening over me being injured a short while ago, isn’t it?
Reeka blinks at me and flips his wings to rearrange the feathers before issuing a command of his own. :Up! Get cat up—pack up! Now, now.: Not only sarcastic, but a tyrant too.
Star-Eyed, what did I do to deserve this? I wonder to myself as I grasp the rope and begin hauling. Luckily a cunning, hertasi made, system of pulleys and counterweights meaning that all I really have to do is provide the initial force and control. I really don’t think I’d be able to hoist pack or Changling around any more.
Once I have the platform at the same level as the ‘porch’ and secure I also—belatedly—remember to hoist up the rope ladder. I hope Cilli doesn’t find out about my lack of self-safety discipline—she really would remove my hide in one piece.
Now I open the tight-sealed door of my ekele that leads to the inner porch and I manage to push and nudge my pack, and half carry the Changling through the entrance as Reeka flaps in over my head and lands on a cloak-hook. I pull shut the outer door and then open the door on the opposite wall that actually lets into my ekele. A lot of fuss, you may think, but I don’t have the advantage of a Veil to keep out nasty weather and such, so all this is very much necessary for insulation and keeping the inside of my home water- and wind-proof and liveable.
As soon as the door is open, Reeka dives over my head again and makes for his perch and begins vigorous preening as soon as he is settled.
The damned pack gets kicked into a corner, I’ll sort it out later and the Changling gets plonked unceremoniously on a low-back couch. One of the few items of furniture I have in the public room of my ekele.
The Changling looks about as out of it as you can be and still be alive—although I do have a brief panic and check her to see that she is still breathing—and looks in no danger of waking up any time soon. Meaning I have nowt to do except study the interior of my ekele until Dawnfrost arrives.
The room that we are in at the moment is curved in shape, to fit around the trunk of the great tree that holds my home aloft and the only real items of furniture are the low couch that the Changling is sprawled over, a carved wood chair pushed against the wall, a low table in roughly the centre of the room—pushed askew where I bumped into it whilst getting the Changling to the couch—and a pair of bookshelf like cabinets that are placed at one end of the room, one against the ‘exterior’ wall and one against the ‘interior’ wall, the wall the backs onto the trunk of the tree.
Although I say the wall backs onto the trunk of the tree, it doesn’t really, well let me explain: Above this level are my sleeping quarters and a storage room, the staircase leading to these is a half spiral that runs between the wall of the public room and the tree itself, which gives me extra ‘under stair’ storage—more hertasi ingenuity that is somewhat flummoxed by my lack of piles of possessions.
The walls are of smooth finished goldenoak and have artfully arranged collections of Hawkbrother masks and painted feathers and the furniture is of a darker finished oak and the couch and the many scattered floor cushions I have are upholstered in fabric of blue and green.
I wonder where Dawnfrost is? The thought surfaces in my mind as I gaze around my ekele for the umpteenth time. Nothing has changed, the Changling is still out for the count and Reeka is fluffed up on a big branch perch, with one foot tucked up, near to the doorway that leads to the stairs.
Before I can make yet another sweep of the room, a strange masculine voice echoes in my head.
:Dawnfrost is astride me waiting for you to let down the ladder so she can climb up and see what in the Star-Eyed’s name Kiiir is babbling about.: There is distinct feeling of amusement, tempered by curiosity, to the sending.
Who in—? I scramble to the porch and fumble with the doors, letting myself onto the outer platform.
Sure enough, Dawnfrost is waiting below, her face turned upwards, her blue eyes alive with curiosity and she’s on the back of a dyheli stag, which explains the masculine Mindvoice.
I reciprocate her waved arm and pull the release to let down the rope ladder as I squint at the dyheli. I once heard a Valdemaran say that the Companions are impossible to tell apart as they are all horse shaped and white. I think that I know what he meant when I look at dyheli; both males and females have the same ghost-pale markings of cream and beige, slightly spiralled straight horns and dark brown eyes with malaar stripe face markings.
I’m not sure that I recognise Dawnfrost’s mount… I think to myself as the stag catches my gaze with his dark brown eyes.
:I am King Stag Nadran.: He tells me with another feeling of amusement as Dawnfrost hops off his back and begins to scale the ladder.
:I’m sorry for not recognising you.: I apologise hastily, dyheli have a very different set of morals when it comes to ‘listening in’ on people’s thoughts…probably as they don’t really understand the concept of privacy as we humans do.
Nadran snorts with amusement and shakes his head to discourage a buzzing pair of flies from alighting on his ears before replying. :You look as if you’ve had an adventure young Shadowstar.: The dyheli observes calmly.
:Yes—: Before I can add any more, Dawnfrost’s head pops above the edge of the platform and she regards me with amazement.
“Blessed Star-Eyed!” She exclaims. “What in the name of the Goddess have you been doing?!”
I wait for her to get her feet onto the platform and stand up before I reply. “Short answer;” I cross my arms stiffly over my chest, noting as I do that I seem to have gathered a large amount of muck on my scout gear—as well as a few spots of blood, “I fell off a cliff.”
Dawnfrost’s eyes go wide as plums. “You did what?!” The piercing quality of her last word causes both myself and Nadran to squint, and me to wish that I could flatten my ears to my head as Nadran had with his.
“No wonder you look like…” Dawnfrost trails off for a moment. “You…fell off a cliff!” With that she dissolves into laughter.
I raise an eyebrow at her as she bends over and begins wheezing in an attempt to catch her breath. “Thanks for your concern.” I say in a slightly aggrieved tone of voice.
“Oh pish!” Dawnfrost manages to curb her giggles and returns my look. “You’re obviously all in one piece, so why shouldn’t I laugh?”
I cast my eyes upwards in mock despair and sigh theatrically. “If you’ve quite finished?”
“Oh, for the moment at least.” She replies with good humour. “I suppose I’d better patch you up now—“ the Healer points at the ajar door to my ekele and shrugs her pack off her back, “—in.”
“Aaah…” I clear my throat and look sideways at Dawnfrost. “Before we go in, there’s something I should tell you…” I trail off uncomfortably as Dawnfrost gives me a quizzical look up from rummaging around in her bag.
“Yes…?” She asks patiently.
I cough and close my eyes briefly, suddenly I’m getting the feeling that maybe bringing the Changling back wasn’t the wisest thing. “Well, you see, it’s not really me that needs patching up it’s more the perso—ummm who helped me…”
Dawnfrost regards me calmly. “How hard did you hit your head?” She asks, with a tilt of her head.
“Not that hard—well, I lost consciousness but—well…” I sound like an idiot. I should just tell her.
Yeah, right: ‘Dawnfrost, I found an injured Changling and brought it back to my ekele without a second thought.’
I can see that going down well.
“Just… take a look.” I finish in a rush and point towards the doorway. Dawnfrost gives me an odd look and I can feel Nadran looking at me through her eyes as she walks past me and pushes open the door.
“I really think I should look at your head,” she tells me, half over one shoulder, “concussion is no laughing matter you kno—“ She breaks off suddenly, and in the sudden silence I hear soft thudding of hooves as Nadran involuntarily dances in place. I may not be overly Sensitive, but I can feel the surprise radiating off of the pair of them in great waves.
I move after Dawnfrost and nudge her in the back, getting her to move from her position of ‘just in’ the inner doorway and she stumbles forwards slightly, attention locked on my unexpected guest. I sidle around her and into the room, making it over to Reeka’s perch before I stop and turn to face her.
“Is…” Dawnfrost looks like someone has just hit her round the back of the head with a plank. She tries again. “That’s… That’s a—a…” She can’t seem to get the words out.
:Changling.: Nadran’s Mindvoice echoes loudly in my mind and I have to suppress a start of shock. I’d almost forgotten about the dyheli sharing Dawnfrost’s vision.
Dawnfrost nods in stunned agreement and turns to face me. “Where—I mean how…?”
:Where did It come from?: Once again, Nadran is the voice of coherency.
“She,” I say somewhat defensively, “and she helped me after I fell off the river bank.” Dawnfrost blinks at me. “She’s injured.” I add. “She needs help.”
Me Shadowstar. Me not speak good. Shadowstar go hunt with spear now. Shadowstar kill many things!
:So you ‘rescued’ her?: Nadran doesn’t sound accusative, in fact his Mindvoice sounds very neutral and bland.
“Yes.” I still sound defensive and Reeka is obviously picking up on this as he rumbles in disapproval and mantles his wings briefly before adding his feather’s worth.
:Cat good!: He insists firmly. :Reeka like cat, Dawnfrost help cat.: My Bondbird fixes a steady golden gaze on the female Tayledras who blinks and shakes her head slightly, some sense coming back to her expression.
“I—oh, he’s right.” She says faintly and scrutinises the prone form of the Changling.
I think I really have stepped into an alternate reality… Reeka, he of the not understanding, has just managed to apparently win Dawnfrost over how?”
“You’re not going to shout at me for being an idiot?” I ask cautiously, just to be sure.
“Don’t be stupid—“ Dawnfrost shoots back at me, “—even if you are an idiot, which you are, she’s hurt.” The Healer turns her attention back to her patient.
Very confused now… I think to myself, and scratch at the back of my head…right up until I encounter a large lump, which hurts. Ow.
:There’s no evil in her.: Nadran says, he’s obviously been watching my surface thoughts. :Dawnfrost is an Empath as well as a Healer, and I am not exactly unGifted.:
:So?: The switch to Mindspeech with the dyheli means that I fall into a strong enough rapport to feel when he shakes his head. Odds are even on whether it’s to discourage flies for alighting on his ears or in despair of a certain dim witted Hawkbrother not a thousand leagues from here.
:Neither of us can sense any kind of ill intent in the Changling, besides, it is perfectly obvious that she hasn’t attacked you in any way.: I get a distinct sense of amusement with the latter part of that sending.
Marvellous, I think to myself, Unlike Bondbirds, dyheli are good Mindspeakers…my ‘accident’ is going to be all over the Vale in a quarter mark!
My gaze drifts back over to Dawnfrost whilst I think and the blank look of concentration on her face indicates that she is in a Healing trance. In fact—if I focus—I can See the Healing energies moving around her. I have just enough Mage gift to be a hedge wizard, and I mainly use it for the Mage-sight and reading weather patterns, it’s a useful tool for a scout.
In the back of my mind I can taste plant leaves, a sign that Nadran is taking the opportunity to graze around my tree and silence reigns in the ekele itself. Reeka is watching Dawnfrost with acute interest—odd bird, there’s nothing really to see—and I think Dawnfrost’s Kiiir is sunning herself on a branch outside, as she didn’t follow her Bondmate into my ekele.
I ease myself down onto one of the seat-cushions and join my Bondbird in watching the silent tableau that is Dawnfrost and the Changling, for what seems like a long time, long enough for my muscles to add ‘growing stiffness’ to the list of their complaints against me, before Dawnfrost draws in a deep breath and shakes herself back to wakefulness.
After blinking a few times she half-turns to eye me. “Well now brave hunter—“ she quirks an eyebrow at me, “—lets see about patching you up.”
I sigh and lurch stiffly to my feet. “Is she—?” I begin to inquire as Dawnfrost gracefully makes her way towards me after scooping up her bag.
“She’ll be fine, I’ve Healed the cut on her leg and head and reduced the swelling and severity of the bruising she has.” She replies. “She was badly beaten, you know, sometime within the last week.” Dawnfrost fixes me with a look that is almost a glare and I raise my hands placatingly. “I know…” She sighs. “I don’t like bullying in any way, shape or form.”
Dawnfrost squints at—or rather through—me for a moment and indicates that I should sit on the wooden chair, which I do. “I know you don’t, it’s not exactly my cup of wine either.” I say as I pull the chair out from the wall and turn it around, so that I am staring out a window and Dawnfrost is presented with a view of my much-battered skull.
She ‘hmms’ under her breath a carefully parts my blood matted hair as I try to stifle a series of winces. “Hold still.” She murmurs distractedly and places both hands on top of my head.
A warm tingling spreads across my scalp, before I can think of a witty reply and the sharp pain drains away from my head. I hold still, as interrupting a Healer’s trance is not only rude, it is liable to get you a skin-crisping glare at the very least. Dawnfrost’s breathing sounds behind me as a soft, halting whisper and I vaguely gaze out of the window. Not much to see really, just leaves and branches, what we call the ‘tree road’.
Dawnfrost draws in a deeper breath and I feel her hands lift off my head. “You’ll do, I’ve sorted out the wound on your head, but you’re stuck with the bruising for now.” She informs me as she bends over to dig in her bag. “Here, drink this.” She advises me as a brown earthenware jug appears in my line of sight.
“How much.” I ask as I cautiously eye the bottle and take hold of it. Dawnfrost makes good potions, but they have a certain… distinct… flavour to them, shall we say?
The Healer snorts. “A swig, a large swig. It’ll get rid of the rest of your headache and stop your bruises from hurting so much.”
“Thanks.” I say, and prise the tight-fitting cork out of the neck of the clay vessel. I’ve long learnt that smelling Dawnfrost’s potions before drinking them only warns the body of what is to come, so I quickly down a large mouthful of the cool liquid.
Dawnfrost comes into my line of sight as I cough slightly and swallow in an attempt to get the astringent—think eating a whole lemon—taste out of my mouth, and she raises a sardonic eyebrow. “Yes?” She inquires deceptively.
“Nothing, I’m absolutely fine.” I manage to croak. I prefer my skin still attached to the rest of me and non-crispy, thank you.
“Good.” She nods her head once and relieves me off the potion, jamming the cork back into the neck of the bottle before replacing it into her bag.
:Awake!: Reeka suddenly crows delightedly from his perch to the left of us, causing both Dawnfrost and myself to start with surprise.
“What on the Star-Eyed’s name are you on about, you daft bird?” I ask with exasperation as I half turn to look at him, Dawnfrost mimicking my movement, with an equal amount of puzzlement clear on her face. My Bondbird is hopping from one foot to the other and chirping like a messenger bird.
Maybe Reeka is the one who needs his head checked, not me… is it possible to mentally transmit concussion to your Bondbird?
:Awake awake!: Reeka insists and stabs his beak forward in the air. I turn around, Dawnfrost still moving in time with me and we are greeted with—
—a blur of black and grey-brown diving over the back of the couch as the item of furniture itself jerks forwards and the cushions on it go flying in a graceful rain of blues and greens—
—a gasp of shock torn from someone’s throat, I can’t tell if it’s mine or Dawnfrost’s, or even Nadran’s—
I lurch to my feet and stagger across the room, like a Valdemaran visiting a tree-top ekele for the first time, to be confronted with a very much awake Changling with her hind quarters pressed against the far wall and all her hackles standing on end.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see Dawnfrost’s mouth opening and shutting soundlessly as she edges closer to me.
This was not in the plan… although what was in the plan I’m not quite sure. Not this however.
Dawnfrost has reached me and is pressing into my side, unintentionally I edge forwards for a step, causing alarm, fear, and—something else—to flare in the Changeling’s eyes as she flinches back for a moment and then bristles at me, emitting a loud, very feline, hiss of defiance.
What the Hells am I supposed to do now? I wonder to myself. The decision, however, isn’t apparently up to me.
Reeka suddenly flaps past the living statue that is Dawnfrost and me and thuds onto the back of the couch, his claws digging deep into the soft padding—
—the Changling tenses up into an unmistakeable ‘attack’ posture and I let out an involuntary cry—
—Nadran’s presence suddenly fills the room and I can feel his attention is centred on the Changling as he seizes hold of her mind to stop her attacking my Bondbird.
Tries to—the Changling shudders all over and emits and growl before doing—something— that evades Nadran’s mental grasp and leaves him able to do nothing except broadcast shock.
The Changling rears back on her hind legs and raises her left paw, claws fully flexed—and they are big claws—to strike at Reeka.