A/N: Originally published on Frebruary 20th, 2013 on A Purple Panda. – Alixa
THE DAGGER OF EXION
I almost thought I was out on a stroll in this beautiful weather. The sun was shining, the birds were signing and I was simply following the road to the southeast edge of the forest. Since the journey was long to Heilam, I didn’t need to hurry. The letter I held wasn’t urgent either. I intended to take advantage of my travelling to get to know this world better. Maybe fragments of my memory would return to me as I did so. However, this path wasn’t the most used, especially at this time of the year, and I didn’t meet anyone on my way.
I wasn’t lonely though. The second night I spent under the stars, I heard a noise. It sounded like a wounded animal and I rose from the bed of leaves I had made. Taking a torch, I made my way in the dark towards the whining. To my surprise, I found a wolf cub in a rabbit trap, unable to free himself. Hanging by a foot, he was trying desperately to bite the rope off, unsuccessfully. I had a smile watching the little white ball of fur fighting for his life. I approached and he growled when I tried to help. I calmed him down with my voice, talking very low. Taking my dagger out of it’s sheath, I freed him of the trap carefully and watched him get back on his feet. He stumbled though and I realized that the paw that was caught might be hurt. So I kneeled and offered a hand. Still whining from the pain, the wolf cub came closer and this time didn’t try to bite me. I took him and carried him back to my camp. Holding him close to me, I could feel his small heart beat fast. He was terrified, hurt and alone. Back to the fire, I fed him some of the meat Meriel gave me before I left. He seemed to like it and once he was full, he fell asleep. I then went to bed myself, smiling.
In the morning, I was woken up by whining and nudging. His nose was cold and wet and I almost pushed him away, half asleep. Once I was fully awake though, I realized the cub was probably hungry again and so I fed him meat and gave him water while I was eating myself. He seemed to still be in pain and so I decided to carry him with me until he felt better. He was a cute little cotton ball, white as snow, and I liked him the moment I first saw him. And so I grew attached to him and started talking to him as to a companion. I still hadn’t named him, however, and called him “little one”. I didn’t feel it was my place to do so, but then who else would?
The fourth day, he started walking around the small camp I set up. He was exhausted quite fast, but his foot was healing. By the sixth, he could walk with me, though my long strides were too big for his little legs and he had to run to catch up to me. After being held for so long, being able to run made him feel better. I was afraid to see him leave my side, but he stayed with me. He was too young to hunt though, and I promised myself to teach him… after I learned myself. I didn’t want to strip him of his nature. He was a predator, a hunter, and so I wanted him to be. He would simply learn manners around humans, but I didn’t want to make him a simple dog.
By the end of the first week, we drew closer to the edge. We could see the plain beyond the trees and there was a village there as well. My food was low and I looked forward to meeting more people. Though I was out of coins, I was quite sure I could work for my stay at the local inn. I picked up the pace, in a hurry to arrive before the sun set.
As soon as I got there, darkness started to take over the sky. I made my way to the center of the village, where I was sure I would find the inn. The Crossroads, it was called. I walked in with my wolf at my heels and was greeted by a tall stern man. He didn’t look so friendly and looked at me quite suspiciously. I must’ve looked dirty from the road and since travelers weren’t much at this time…
– Greetings, traveler. Welcome to Joster, how can I help you?
I wasn’t so sure my first idea would be accepted by this giant. He could probably crush me, or at least kick me out properly of his establishment. I still went on, as I had no other plan.
– I am looking for food and a bed, however I have no more coins. I am willing to work to earn my stay, though.
He looked quite surprised for a second, unable to react. I guess it’s not how people usually plan their journey. I must’ve seemed so odd to him and yet, after that moment passed, he smiled and laughed.
– A hand is always welcome, traveler! You can help in the kitchen for tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll have other tasks for you!
The large man started laughing again, before going up the stairs towards the guest rooms. He showed me a door and told me to make myself at home. Later, I would go to the kitchen to help with basic tasks. The cub was to stay in the room, though he didn’t like being left alone. He kept whining the whole time I was downstairs working hard. At some point, Marn the innkeeper appeared in the doorway with the little cotton ball in his large hands, laughing again.
– This little friend was lonely. He can stay with you, if you’d like. As long as he doesn’t make a mess, I don’t mind!
And so, from there on, Silva was never very far from me. Whether I was chopping some wood for the inn, or acting as a delivery boy for different shops in town, he would follow on his tiny paws, running to keep up with my long strides. Soon, I was known around the village, and so was my wolf cub. We were staying much longer than expected, but my gold pouch was getting bigger every day. Though every job I did rewarded me very little coin, I didn’t need to spend for my bed and food as I would keep working at the inn. At some point, I even went hunting with some of the men. They would keep the meat for themselves or sell it to the local butcher. I gave my share to Marn, as a thanks for all he did for me. I also found out I was decent with a bow, though I felt more comfortable with a sword in my hand. It meant I could hunt and survive on wild animals if needed. Somehow, that thought made me think I had already.
By talking with Marn, who was friendlier than he seemed, I learned the King was old, ruling for almost 40 years now. He was the rightful heir, but a faction in Pellar had risen and contested his right to the crown. He had won and eliminated the heads of the rebellion. Since then, kingdom had been at peace, though rumors were that the children of those held responsible were gathering again in the trading city. If they had, indeed, united again with the Northern men as allies, then the young prince might have some trouble to keep his crown, as he was far from the same as his father. His younger sister, everyone said, was more suited to take the King’s place, but succession was to the eldest. Unless anything happened to him, the gods forbid, she would never wear the crystal crown.
This was my last day I decided. I felt home in Joster, as far as I knew what home felt like. People were kind to me, recognized me. I wasn’t a stranger anymore. However, I needed to go to Heilam. I couldn’t stay here forever, though I wouldn’t mind it so much. Before I left, though, the blacksmith’s daughter came to me crying. She was a very sweet girl, about to get married, but she couldn’t do so without her late mother’s necklace. She thought she lost it in the forest when she went to pick berries yesterday afternoon. I couldn’t refuse to help, and so I accompanied her in her search.
Carrie, it was her name, was afraid it might’ve fallen in the river. Silva following us, we went deeper in the Crimson Forest, towards that patch of berries she loved. If it was as she said, the necklace would be lost as the stream would’ve taken it to the western sea. By noon, we were at the small clearing. The bright purple berries almost shone in the shadow of the red trees. I picked one up and tasted with pleasure the sweet fruit. Silva was sniffing around, not too far, while Carrie was looking around. Suddenly, I heard a growl. A huge black beast jumped from the other side of the clearing and tried to bite me with its large sharp teeth. I had barely time to dodge before it tried to claw me. I didn’t take any weapon besides my dagger and so I unsheathed it as I dodge again, aware it would be so little against the beast. The paws were huge and I couldn’t do much but roll on the side to avoid being ripped apart. Silva was barking and growling, but he was too small to do anything to help. The girl was screaming, I barely registered, but was away from harm. As the wolf-like monster jumped at me again, I avoided the teeth by inches and shoved my dagger into its neck. I cut through the fur and the flesh to reach the monster’s artery. A flow of black blood gushed when I took the dagger out, rushing backwards. It took a few steps towards me and crashed loudly on the ground. Only then could I have a better look at the thing. It was at least 5 times bigger than an ordinary wolf. It looked rabid, deadly, and had two tails. The claws were coated in a green slimy substance, probably poisoned. What in hell was this thing?
Carrie was crying and I went to her. Clasped in her fist was her necklace. I tried to reassure her as best as I could and escorted her out of the forest. She was terrified and I knew she would dream of that beast from now on, but it was dead. Hopefully, it didn’t have any friends.
Once we got back, I brought the girl home. Her father then thanked me, happy I was there to protect his only child. He offered me nice sword as proof of his gratitude. Also, knowing where I was headed to, he asked me a favour I couldn’t refuse. He had this sword he had to deliver to Heilam for a special client. He was a master blacksmith, yet he stayed in this remote village. He was attached to this land and had no desire to live in the big cities. His name was known, though, and people would travel to get weapons from him. Since I was going to the royal city, I said I would do this last thing for him. It was a beautiful sword like none I had seen in his shop. It was a very long and slim blade, but awfully sharp. The black scabbard was decorated with silver dragons and the hilt too. I strapped it to my back with my own, more traditional but just as deadly.
I spent a last night at The Crossroads, planning to leave at dawn. My pouch was full of coins for my journey and I made friends in Joster. I knew I would come back someday, but my steps would take me further I could’ve imagined then.
To be continued.