Lisle was tired, every muscle in her legs and back, sore and complaining. Ell, half-grown and inexperienced flyer that she was, still managed to set a rapid pace, keeping just ahead of them in the sky. Gareth traveled easily over the undulating fields and sparse woods through which they traveled, his years of wandering preparing him well for a trip such as this. Moss flitted about them, landing here on Lisle’s pack, there on Gareth’s shoulder, zipping out ahead of them, then falling back on their trail, only to catch up a few minutes later.
Watching her zipping about, Gareth frowned, then his lips twitched upward. “Shining scales, she’s watching our trail.”
Following the tiny, green blur with her eyes, Lisle nodded her head, Thanks Moss.
After the first few days, it was clear that they would need to slow down until Lisle’s traveling muscles could build up a bit. Lisle said nothing, but the stiff legged way that she moved on that second morning, and her cramped posture as she shouldered her pack, loudly proclaimed what she would not say.
Ell slowed down then, circling when necessary and taking frequent breaks. At that pace Lisle was able to keep up.
Over the next few days they fell into a traveling routine. Starting off at dawn, resting as needed, and finding camping spots as the day drew to a close. Water in streams and ponds was plentiful, Ell guiding them easily from one to the next. Moss continued her vigilance. Gareth hunted along the way if anything edible came close.
Ell surprised them all one end day as she strutted toward her companions and presented them with a fine hopper for their evening meal.
"Our Ell is a hunter now," said Gareth looking at her proudly. Ell returned his gaze, fluffing her wings a bit, and arching her neck. Lisle was enormously relieved as she had all she could do to stay upright and doggedly moving along.
The seventh day of their journey dawned bright and sunny. They had been unusually lucky with the weather so far, and both Gareth and Lisle were grateful. This morning’s walking brought them to the outskirts of a rural village crouched on the edge of Darkling Forest.
“We can provision here,” said Gareth.
Lisle looked over the tiny village and thought longingly of a soft, dry bed and a hot bath. She looked at her feet, hanging her head, as she fingered the tiny purse hanging at her waist with the few coins given to her by Farn for the trip.
Gareth glanced at her.
“Don’t fret. I’ve some coin put by. We’ll be alright.”
Lisle looked at him and exhaled the breath that had tightened within her chest, a child’s sunny smile gracing her lips.
As they entered the village Lisle saw Moss alight on the branch of a tree standing just to the side of the cottages. She looked for Ell and watched as she angled downward and disappeared beneath the trees bordering the forest.
Lisle felt for that warmly lit place in her heart that was Ell, and knew that she was content.
The village was not much more than a few cottages huddled together on the outskirts of Darkling Forest. The cottages were much like that which Lisle’s Farn had built, and in which Lisle had grown up. Though these were smaller and not as well kept.
There looked to be a smithy with makeshift furnace, crooked chimney leaning upright, anvil and tools hung beneath an unevenly canted overhang of wooden roof. Opposite that, a cottage with a small sign hanging above the doorway and a rough drawing of a tankard and what might have been a loaf of bread.
Gareth contemplated the sign. Then he shrugged his shoulders and beckoned to Lisle. They entered the doorway to see a room filled with a long, much scarred wooden table. Rough wooden benches, similarly marked by hard use, were pulled up to the sides. A lone villager sat at the end of the table, hunched over a tankard of drink and staring up at them, wide-eyed, as they came through the door.
“You be the first traveler’s in here in awhiles,” said the villager, nodding his head slowly as if he had said something profound.
“That so,” said Gareth. “Could a couple a’ hungry travelers get a meal here abouts?”
A woman entered the room pushing backwards through a door at the side of the room. She grasped empty tankards by the handles in each hand. Setting them up beside a line of similar tankards on the shelf which stretched along the wall beside the door, she wiped her hands on the clean, woven apron tied about her slender waist. She walked toward them, slippered feet just visible swishing beneath her long, dust-colored skirt. Tucking strands of greying hair back up under a cloth cap on her head she said, “You be looking for a meal.”
Lisle and Gareth were delighted to find that for a small amount of coin she offered a decent stew and loaf of warm, fresh-baked bread. Happily, they sat down at the end of the table opposite from the villager and tucked in. For reasons known only to himself, the villager let them be and did not ask the questions which no doubt burned in his gullet.
Finishing her meal, Lisle tucked away a slice of bread for Moss. Then she forced her way through a request for a bath from the proprietress. Evidence enough of just how badly she wanted a long, hot soak. She was delighted to be told that there was a tub that could be rented. Hot water cost extra, and Lisle sighed, shaking her head, no. But Gareth signaled to the woman and Lisle spent the next blissful hour after her meal, soaking away a seven day of aches, closed away in the bath closet.
Gareth waited, happy to relax by the window and watch the small goings on in the village.
He sat up as he saw Ell emerge from the woods and circle over the village, then move over the edge of the forest. He saw her hover and then dive down into the trees. She’s caught her own dinner then, he thought, satisfied that she was well.
A short time later he saw her return to the sky, again circling the village. The shadow she cast upon the ground from so high up was not much more noticeable than that of the small hunter fliers so common in the skies. He looked to see if any of the villagers saw her when he noticed a small group of people standing about beside the smithy across the street. They were all gesturing excitedly and pointing at a what looked to be a crude-looking metal cage held in one man’s hand.
Lisle burst from the bath closet, fully clothed, looking flushed and braiding her chestnut hair rapidly. She ran to where Gareth sat at the window. “Wh…what’s wrong? Where’s Ell?”
Gareth pointed out the window. Astounded they watched together, as they saw Ell arrow out of the sky, back-winging to stand on her hind legs, wings mantling, flapping up a great cloud of dirt into the group of people at the smithy.
Lisle was already on her way out the door, and Gareth scrambled to follow her.
Ell’s eyes were huge pupiled and wild, crown ridges erect and glowing a startling, bright red. She lifted her sharp toothed jaws open to the sky and let out a tremendous, bellowing roar that rattled the shaky foundations of the smithy, dust dribbling down from the overhang next to them.
Practically stumbling over Lisle as he caught up to her, Gareth raced with her toward Ell. The same question burned in both their minds. What could possibly be causing Ell to react in such a terrifying manner?
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16
StoryTime Read Aloud
Do you enjoy being read to? I'm reading Contract with a Guardian aloud on FacebookLive! Scroll down to find the postings.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN