Copyright Laurie Mahaffy 1999

The Journal of Talae Coldfoot of the Tribe

As Translated by and Annotated by:

Torvald Bonecruncher

The Beginning

Day 1:

I am afraid. It is very important to me that I pass on my traditions and beliefs to my children. I am afraid that they will not learn of their heritage if I do not teach it to them. I am afraid I may die before I even have children. I may die tomorrow. That is why I start this journal, so that my children may know my thoughts if I do not live long enough to tell them all that they should know. My people have a strong oral tradition but I must use the written word lest I forget things or die before my children are ready to hear.

My God calls me and I must go. I leave tomorrow for Smashtown to begin my training. I have heard many rumors of the training in the Church of Ebu, none of them pleasant. No matter. I serve the church now. I have given my word to fight against the enemies of the church including the reptiles that would enslave us all. I had better sleep.

Day 2:

It rained all day today. The local weather god has sport with me! I curse him! Water dripped down the collar of my cloak and soaked me to my skin. Twig spent the day huddled under my cloak. I finally got this fire going but I still feel so cold. The chill has settled into my bones and my teeth chatter of their own will. As I stare into the flames I am reminded of another time with another fire...

It was sunny when I set out that spring afternoon in my 6th year. It was Mom's naming-day celebration. I wanted to get her something special and I knew just the place to look. There was a small, sheltered valley just north of our encampment. Growing on the southern hillside, where the sun was warm even in the middle of Rebirth, were the most perfect crocuses you ever saw. There were purple and yellow and white flowers by the millions. I could get a special bouquet of flowers for Mom.

I ran most of the way there just because it felt so good. The breeze was stirring the grasses and the sun was warm on my back. Just as I crested the last hill movement caught my eye. I went closer and saw that there was a warbler flailing around with a bent wing.

The closer I got to the bird the more she struggled. The poor thing. She couldn't fly and she couldn't run. I felt so sad for her. I wanted to help. I started to sing in a soft voice and she seemed to settle a bit. I just kept singing as I moved closer and after a while she settled enough to allow me to touch her. Her heart was racing. I warbled and crooned to her and soon she was perched on my finger. I gently stroked her belly. Her feathers were soft like the fluff from milkweed pods.

I don't know why, but animals have always seemed to like me more than the others of our tribe. I like them too. I carried my new friend, Bent-wing, with me as I collected the flowers for Mom's bouquet. Mom liked yellow best so most of the flowers I gathered were a golden yellow. I added some white ones too. As I was reaching for some purples a cloud covered the sun. Looking up I saw that it had gotten very late. On top of that there was a storm moving in. Mom would be upset if I was late for dinner.

As I started to run Bent-wing flew off. I was glad she had recovered but I had no time to worry about her. I had to get home or I would be in trouble.

I don't remember exactly when it started raining but by the time that I was near my home I was wet and cold. The sky was dark by then and my surprise for Mom was spoiled because I was so late. It should have been dark at our camp. The sun was down, but in the direction of our camp it was as bright as day.

I ran up the slope of the last hill and I saw something I would never forget. Every tent of the encampment was aflame. There were lines of my people tied together at wrist and ankle. Men were riding up and down the trampled paths between tents hitting people who were trying to run. Shadows from the flames danced on the rider's faces and made them seem like demons. Children were crying. Mothers were screaming. Mud and water; fire and steam were everywhere.

I ran away. And ran and ran until I could not take another step. I finally fell down, wet and sobbing, laying there for a long time. I became cold, so cold...

The fire has warmed me. I know where I am and where I am going. I hope the rain clears up soon.

Day 4:

The bad weather finally broke today and wan sunshine came through. I suppose there will be more travelers now that the mud is drying up. I don't know whether to be thankful that my feet will be dry or to worry about brigands. There are bound to be more cutthroats and thieves about now that it is not so inhospitable. Oh well. I can take care of myself. I had to learn to make my own way very young...

Cold, so cold. I woke with a start to a strange sound. It was a kind of rattling, like the bracelets that the older girls wear for dancing. Strange, I couldn't hear any music. Wondering, I lifted my head and looked around.

The events of last night(?) came crashing down on me. Mmmom! Dad! I gritted my teeth and buried my head in my arms. The clicking noise stopped only to be replaced by sobs. Fire! Men on horses! By the Gods, it wasn't just a bad dream. Fear clutched my stomach. Now I was cold inside and out. Cold from being wet and cold from fear. I wished I was dead.

My wish would come true if I didn't find shelter soon. My people's knowledge and instinct must have taken over, then. Getting to my knees I looked around more carefully. I must have run farther than I thought because I could not recognize a single hill or bush or rock. This was beyond the range of my hunting trips with Dad.

I tried to stand but could not. My feet weren't working. Dragging myself to the nearest bush I took off my boots and started chaffing my feet. My hands didn't work too well either. After a time the movement and the heat from friction got my blood pumping again. Now my feet and hand weren't numb, they really hurt!

Mom, my hands hurt. Help me! But I knew that she could not. I seemed to hear my Dad's voice telling me something but I was crying too hard to hear what he said. I curled up under the bush and rocked and moaned...

I passed out for a while.

I swam up out of the darkness to the sound of breathing. I couldn't feel my hands and feet anymore and I wondered who, or what, was breathing. It couldn't be me. I was dead. I opened my eyes expecting to see my grandparents on the Summer Plain and looked into the eyes of a dragon from the fiery depths of the Pit. The yellow eyes never blinked in that face of red scales. The nostrils of the beast flared and its mouth opened...

"Whinney! Where are you? Straying from the herd is dangerous young one. You could get lost."

What was this? I didn't recognize the voice. The woman spoke the tongue of the Plains; but strangely. I opened my eyes again in time to see a pink tongue coming towards my face. Its touch was raspy and warm on my frozen cheek.

"There you are you rascal. What have you found? Come, come. Step aside so I can see. You know that prairie chickens give you gas."

The dragon backed off and I saw a woman. She had blue eyes like the sky on a clear day. They were kind eyes. I heard her gasp.

"What is this?" she exclaimed. "Oh, you poor child. We must take her back to the shelter and warm her, Whinney. Hold on child. Just you hold on. There has been far to much death already."

I vaguely felt myself being gently lifted. "Men and their wars," she muttered. "Such a price for innocents to pay for pride...".

Day 5:

Wet feet are definitely easier to deal with than brigands. As I feared, the better weather brought all kinds of low life scum out of their hidey-holes. The cut on my right arm seems to be clean. Twig is flitting around and pulling on the loose ends of the bandage. Hurts like the devil. I was lucky to get off so lightly. It's strange, but I'm hesitant to describe how the injury occurred. When I first had the idea of writing, I never thought I'd want to leave out certain details. My children, know that although I train for battle, I do not enjoy taking life. Sometimes it is simply necessary... for has not Ebu given me these skills to make life better for those that deserve it? And shorter for those that don't?

The westering sun was shining in my face from the left as I approached the hill. I had decided to skirt the hill rather than climb it. The soil was loose and the grasses grew only sparsely because this side of the hill was badly eroded. As I circled to my left I lost my footing and slipped down the slope a few feet, twisting to dig in knees and toes and check my slide. That misstep saved my life!

Coming down from above and behind me were two of the ugliest, dirtiest men I had ever seen. The one in the lead had a dark beard and greasy hair that had not seen water in a while. He wore an expression of confidence as he leered down at me, there on my knees before him. "Get her, Sava," the second man urged. "She looks ripe for the taking." His confidence would be his undoing.

I travel well armed and my weapons are not just for show. A man charging down a hill has a lot of inertia. He cannot stop as quickly as he thinks. I drew and set my trident. The look on Sava's face would have been funny if he were not about to die. As he lunged the last few feet to secure his prize his eyes bugged out of his head so far I thought they would pop out. The leftmost tine of my trident slid neatly between his 7th and 8th ribs. The center prong cracked his breastbone and drove into his heart. His left side ended with a broken rib since the tine on that side missed the space between.

The second man checked his headlong charge to re-asses the situation. I noticed that he had a scar on his chin. I took that opportunity to scramble out from under Sava and stand. Now unsupported Sava keeled over and vomited blood all over his buddy's boots. Scar Face glanced down: looked up. "You'll pay for that lucky strike with your life Bitch!"

He was right about one thing; I had been lucky. Lucky to spot them, but not in killing Sava. He was careless. In his rush to capture easy prey he had underestimated his foe. But now I was in trouble. I faced a man who was enraged by the death of his comrade and aware that I was not easy pickings.

Scar Face drew his sword and advanced cautiously, careful of his footing on the sandy soil. I drew my net but my trident was embedded in Sava's chest. I was short one weapon. I would have to make do. Careful of my own footing I worked my way to my right, uphill.

Scar tried a test cut at my legs, which I parried with my net. We continued jockeying for position on that hillside for several minutes, he thrusting and slashing, me parrying and avoiding. Sweat beaded my forehead. I could see it trickling down his nose. Silence was the accompaniment to our dance of death. I watched, ever defensive, for an opening. Luck was still with me. As Scar grew bolder from my defensive stance he lunged for my chest with his sword. His reach was longer than mine was but this time instead of dancing uphill as I had been doing I turned with the thrust and stepped into him. His sword scored on my greaves and cut through to my right arm. As the pain registered I stepped past his guard and wrapped my net around him. For several heartbeats he was hopelessly entangled.

Backing away, now weaponless, I drew a harpoon and from point blank range hurled it into his writhing body. The strike was not mortal but it was maiming. I finished him off with another harpoon...

My analgesic tea is done steeping. As I sip it I recall another fight, in another place and time... Ebu guide my words.

The taste of blood is salty in my mouth. Not the first time. Turns out it would not be the last. Torae offers me a cold cloth for my battered face and an understanding ear for my bruised heart.

In the two years since she found me Torae has tried to soothe the aches in my heart. When I awake from nightmares in a cold sweat I see kind blue eyes in a concerned face looking down at me. Then her strong arms rock me to the rhythm of the rain or the keening of the wind until I can find the void of dreamless sleep again. I mostly dream when it rains. Those are the worst times. There don't seem to be any best times.

"Torae, why does Drea hate me?"

She smiles and says," I don't think he hates you. He's just working out his place in the family."

"Does he think I'm taking his place? How could I? I'm not even one of 'The Free People'. I don't even belong here!"

Her smile grew as she said, "Yes, you do belong here. Since I found you I knew that you would fill a gap in my heart. Before you came I had no daughters. The boys were wonderful but they were boys. I needed a girl. I needed someone that I could teach my skills to."

I thought about that as the cold seeped into my swollen lip, numbing the pain there. For the first time I really thought about my place here. How I fit in with the people around me.

Liam, Torae's husband, tries really hard to be nice to me. He even takes me hunting with Drea and Byar when I express interest but we still don't get on well. His constant cheerfulness bothers me. Everyone is allowed to have the angers once in a while. It's not normal never to feel angry, sad or upset.

Byar is much like his father. Never ruffled no matter what is happening around him. Like a rock in a stream. The same whether the water is high and fast or low and sluggish. Twice the size of most of the men around the camp and only 13. Byar doesn't really care about me one way or the other, but he often sides against me with Drea.

Drea. Three years older than me and still smaller. It drives him crazy that a girl is bigger than he is. Torae explained to him about my size. My people are just bigger than 'The Free People'. It's not my fault.

Then there's Chloe. One year old now and the pride of the Strongbow family. Torae's beautiful daughter arrived under difficult circumstances. A breach birth, Torae almost died delivering her. Torae will not be separated from her and the three of us are often seen together. I love little Chloe too. Torae lets me help with her and I was there to catch her when she took her first steps.

"Yes," I said "But now you have Chloe. You don't need me anymore."

"Hush now," Torae whispered "you always have a place with me. Now tell me how this happened this time."

Maybe there were some good times...

Day 6:

The weather is still holding. Sunny and warm. If this keeps up, and I don't encounter too many more like Sava and Scar Face I should be in Smashtown in 5 more days. My arm is still tender but the seeping has stopped. It should heal cleanly. As I sit here staring into the small flames of my cooking fire I reflect on my chosen path. I seem destined to be alone. Except for Twig. She is my truest friend.

I've been alone most of my life. Well, most of my life since my family was lost to me. At times like this, quiet times, I really miss my brothers Rayic and Bealar. Rayic would be 18 now and Bealar would be about 15. Last time I saw them Bealar was just a baby. Just a baby...

"Chloe, come back here! Salat, help me get Chloe." Torae had finally let me and Salat mind Chloe. Salat was my only friend in the camp. He was 2 years older than me and Torae judged the two of us competent baby-sitters.

We had snuck away from the camp to find some peace and quiet. The men had just come back from a very successful hunt and the place was in an uproar. The hunters were telling the tales of the hunt to anyone who would listen and the women were running around trying to get the meat prepared for storage.

For a while it was quiet. Chloe was playing with some flowers and Salat and I were talking.

"I wish I was a better hunter," said Salat. "Then I could go with the men on the big trips."

Salat was only 10 and small for his age. He had yet to gain the bulk and strength needed to hunt large game. Maybe that's why we got along so well. We were both outcasts of a sort. I was too big, he was too small. We made an unlikely pair.

"Don't worry Salat, you'll get your growth. At least you aren't like Byar."

He laughed at that.

"Yeah, he's so fat he needs two horses to carry him. Hey! Show me again the way to throw a spear. The special way you do it to make it go farther."

As I got up to show him I saw that Chloe was not sitting in the flowers anymore. My heart fluttered like a frightened bird! If anything happened to her I couldn't stand it. I looked around in a panic and spotted her at the bottom of the hillock we were sitting on.

"Come on, Salat. There she is," I cried. We both charged down the slope. My longer legs got me there faster than Salat and just as I scooped the giggling girl up in my arms I heard a heavy grunt. I swung Chloe around in my arms to see what was the matter with Salat just in time to see him disappear!

"Salat! Where are you? Are you hurt?"

I heard a muffled reply from uphill and to my right. As I ran towards the sound words became clearer. He was cussing like I had never heard before. As I reached a large patch of purple columbine I saw the hole that Salat had fallen into. It was not a deep hole.

"Are you alright?" I asked from above.

"Yes," replied Salat, "but get me out of here."

After I put Chloe down and told her to stay put I bent to help him up. Looking down from my spot below the hole I noticed that it seemed to go further into the hill. I asked Salat to have a look around while he was down there.

"It seems to go back about 8 feet," he said. "I don't see any spoor or anything down here."

Always the wanna-be hunter, my friend Salat.

"Well, we'll have to come back to check it out. Torae will be angry if we stay away too much longer."

"You're right about that," he replied. "Let's come back tomorrow. Maybe we can make a fort or something here."

I don't really know what happened to Salat. His family hooked up with another camp later that same year but we did make a fort and we did have some good times. I used that secret place to escape from Drea when our camp was in that area. It was nice having a friend.

Day 7:

It was cool and windy again today. Twig's high spirits seem to have disappeared. She huddled on my shoulder again for most of the day.

It seems Ebu is guiding my steps more and more these days. The western detour that I took to find an easier fording of the stream may have saved me some trouble. As I crossed I heard some shouting from some distance upstream. It seems a band of ruffians was upset at the loss of income. They had set an ambush for travelers further east. They were not skilled enough in woodcraft to pick the easiest crossing. Too bad for them.

When they saw a lone traveler with little obvious wealth I guess they decided it was not worth giving chase. I despise brigands and thieves but I had to leave these alone. On my own, without surprise on my side I could not take 4 armed men. I hope they content themselves with robbery. Murder would weigh heavily on my conscience.

Ebu calls me. I must make haste to the Church to begin my training in His service. Time enough to rid the world of evil when I am a more perfect instrument of His will. Men like those at the ford will be called to task...

"Torae, I can't find my belt."

"Did you look in your saddle bag?" she asks. "That's where you packed it."

I look in my saddle bag, under my tunic. There it is. It is a special beaded belt that Torae made for me on one of our excursions to the Wyvern nesting grounds. Now that Byar and Drea are old enough to go on long hunts with the men Torae takes Chloe and me to the wyverns more often. She says that she must keep her trips to the wyverns a secret from Liam. I don't understand why but it is not hard for me to keep her secret. Liam and I seldom talk unless it has to do with hunting strategies.

This trip to see the wyverns is a very special one for me. Torae says she will teach me to ride a wyvern. I was so excited I could not sleep last night. Today is the day.

As I tie on my belt I think of the first time I glimpsed one. Seven years ago, the night that Torae found me, I looked into the face of a young wyvern and thought I was having a vision from the demon pits. I was near death. I tried to scream but only passed out instead. Now I am good friends with Whinney. She is going to let me ride her, I hope.

"I'm ready Torae. Can we start now?"

"First breakfast. We can't have you getting bruised on an empty stomach," she laughs.

Torae was right about being bruised. Riding a wyvern is not easy. It is even harder than riding a horse. You have to think about up and down commands with wyverns! And a horse never wants to eat you!

By supper that night I was sore but determined. Tomorrow I would do it! I fell into bed that night dreaming of being a Skyrider.

"Get up sleepy head. Its time for worship." Torae's voice. I cracked open my eyes and rolled over. Well, I tried to roll over. I felt as though Byar had been jumping on me! I had aches in muscles where I never knew I had muscles. "Worship?" I groaned.

"Yes," said Torae, "worship. Today is the High Day of Ebu. The sun is at its highest place in the sky. It is 'The Longest Day'. Ebu blesses us with this day once a year to remind us that His sun brings us all of the bounty of the lands and that without it all would perish. Today we feast and celebrate."

"Oh," I grunted. "I forgot."

Since I came to live with 'The People' I had adopted their ways, even their gods. I always enjoyed Ebu's High Day and this one would be the best one yet! No Byar! No Drea! Just Torae and Chloe and the other herdswomen.

I had been so intent on riding that the celebration had slipped my mind even though preparations were going on all around the shelter. I finally managed to roll out of bed and get dressed (wow did I hurt!) so that I could help with the feast. I was glad there would be no riding lessons today. But there would be contests and games of skill and chance.

Just then Chloe came bounding into the shelter.

"Up, up Tal," she squealed. "I made you a High Day present."

In her tiny hand she held a God's Eye. She had made the amulet from two twigs and bits of wool that she had saved.

"Isn't it nice. Put it on. I want to see it on you," she demanded impatiently.

"Alright Chloe, alright. Let me get a thong," I replied calmly.

I went to my saddle bag and got a length of rawhide thong to string the God's Eye around my neck with. It looked 'cool' according to Chloe. I agreed with her.

"Come and get some breakfast, sweetling," I said, scooping up the bundle of energy before she could escape.

"Silly, I've already had breakfast. You slept too long," she said, wiggling to get down.

As I stepped out of the shelter I saw that she was right. Torae was already finishing the breakfast dishes. I rushed over to help.

"Why did you let me sleep so long?" I asked. "I should help with all the preparations."

"Plenty of help around. You needed your sleep after that day with Whinney. Don't fuss, there will be lots for you to do this afternoon," she murmured as she kissed my forehead. "Right now, though, play with Chloe. She was so anxious to give you your gift. I'm sure she would like a little special attention."...

Day 9:

Today is High Day. I did not travel today. This small glade was ideal for the celebration. There were no contests or games, and not much of a feast, but the celebration was satisfying. As was the communion with Ebu. It is always like this when I pray. Ever since...

I have come late into my womanhood. Most girls of 'The People' reach menarche at 10 or 12 years. I am 16 years old. Well, one less thing for the others to tease me about, it is finally here.

'The People' require a new - made young woman to spend a night alone to test her readiness for her new, adult, status. I have chosen to spend High Day isolated. The camp thinks this choice strange. Who would voluntarily miss the festivities of High Day? I would!

Ever since that special High Day with Torae and Chloe three summers ago, with none of the rest of the camp the celebration has been a let-down. The presence of Byar and Drea, and to some extent Liam, spoil the day for me. It is just a day where I get teased and tormented. Byar always finds some way to embarrass me. The more people that see the better. Torae is sympathetic, as always, but she can't get involved in all of our squabbles.

The day started out well. I speared a rabbit for my supper. As I walked along looking for a good place to camp I scanned the ground. 'The Free People' are gatherers as well as hunters and mid-summer is a bountiful time for herbs and vegetables. This being High Day I wanted to cook myself a feast to make up for the one I was missing. Ebu's bounty was not disappointing. I found some salty tasting coltsfoot to season my rabbit with. There were also some wild carrots and grab root to make a salad with. Some steppe peas would round out my meal nicely.

I selected a sheltered hollow and prepared my meal. It was wonderful. The rabbit was rare, just the way I like it. The salad was crisp. Cool wine from my waterskin completed the meal. This was my first experience with wine, but I knew from the adults to cut it with an equal amount of water. Now that I was an adult I wanted to do all the adult things. It was a red wine and it tasted a little strong at first but after 3 or 4 mouthfuls I got used to the taste.

I let the cooking fire burn down to embers as I watched Ebu's sun dip below the horizon. Lying on my sleeping roll I watched the stars come out. I must have dozed off then because the next thing I knew it was bright again. Daylight already? No, I could still see the stars above. Fear clenched my belly. Fire! Horses! The camp was burning! Mom, Dad!

Coming fully awake I realized that the light was not from any fire. It was coming from a bird sitting on a twig. Strange. The bird spoke!

"Fear not My Daughter. I mean you no harm," boomed a voice much to large for that little bird.

Despite the words of reassurance I trembled.

"I have come to tell you of my plans for you. You are special to me. I have tested you and found you worthy. You will dedicate your life to My service. Now you serve a greater purpose than that of 'The Free People'. You are forever after this day 'The Chosen of Ebu'."

I squeaked out a question. "How shall I know you, my God? I am not a prophet. You call me worthy, yet I have no special skill to bend to your service."

"I shall be with you always. In your heart and in your soul. Especially on High Day I will be with you. As for skills, you will have many. They are as yet untrained but they are there. You must go to my temple and train with the Paladins. Then you will be ready to fight evil in all of its guises."

"Yes, my God. When shall I leave to take this great service?" I ask in a shaky voice.

As the light fades I hear, in my mind now, "You will know the time, my Daughter."...

Now, as the sun sets on the latest High Day of my life, I am content in knowing that I will soon embark on the journey that will truly make me His tool. Twig twitters, also content. She has been with me from that day to this.

Author's notes

I welcome any feedback you might care to offer. Please send them to the series editor at rjcampbell@home.com and carbon the Senior Editor at nhmc1@eng.cam.ac.uk quoting the title of the story.