posted on Sep, 9 2016 @ 06:47 PM
The Old Woman
He looked down toward the valley floor. The sun had sunk past the horizon, but in the light of the Greatmoon he could see the pack of
ges'etaaken he had spotted earlier loping around. They had cornered something large, but were not attacking. Either they were toying with
it, or it was not a helpless herd animal. Just then he heard a bellow and surmised they were surrounding a torpae. It would be hard going for
the lithe creatures to take down such a beast - bloody things were armored, spiked, and in a permanently bad mood. He had seen a wounded
torpae destroy a village and kill half of the villagers. He shook his head at the memory. Humanity was failing. Children were lucky if they
lived to be parents of even one child themselves.
He was still a day or two out from the garrison. First Moon was setting, and Second Moon would follow shortly. He built a small fire and kept it
hidden. These woods were not particularly wild, being so close to the Blackhawks. There were ridgecats and thelpyk up there. The lesser
animals had the sense to stay away. The Bastion patrolled through here also, and it was dotted with farm villages and the occasional small town - he
thought Besh-jukar even had a log palisade. No, a small fire would take the autumn chill off.
Sitting on a fallen log, he rested the hunting spear on one side and his bow on another. New cadets at the Bastion always made moon-eyes over the
longswords the Lanceguard carried, or the dual knives of the Ladysguard. They were useless out here. By the time you got close enough to a
ges'etaaken to use either it would have its jaws around your neck or its middle claws were tearing your belly open. Aomm forbid you came
across a swarm of aiyuun.
He had the tea steeping - an Iniveran blend that included the petals of some kind of purple flower - and a stew bubbling in a camp pot when the leaves
to his right rustled. Wind was from that direction, and he smelled - faintly - vinerose.
"You may as well come out here. I won't hurt you if you return the favor."
A figure emerged into the clearing - an old woman, silver hair tumbling out of a dark woolen hood. She moved slowly but with purpose, using a walking
staff but clearly not needing it. Tanned hands with few brown age-spots still showed strength and dexterity as she gently lifted her robes to step
over the rough ring of stones. He noticed well-worn boots of soft leather.
"Please sit," he stood up and gestured to the log he sat on. "I have tea and stew, plenty of both."
She glanced at him. Her eyes were a startling pale blue, twinkling with knowledge and...mirth? Now that he could see her face clearly, she seemed
almost playful. It made him uncomfortable. What human was joyful, except those who had lost touch with reality? People wore their loss on their
faces - those lost to the creatures of this world, killed in useless battles, or who succumbed to bizarre diseases that consumed them from the inside
"Thank you, boy. You are unusually generous," she murmured as she sat on the log.
He grunted. "Just courtesy, my lady. It's how I was raised." He strained a cup of tea for her. "Careful, that cup gets hot quickly."
She just smiled mysteriously.
"You have Aavelae on your tongue, boy."
"I am in fact twenty-seven, my lady. I've not been called 'boy' since I was ten."
"Mm," she mocked gently, "so spry for one so ancient." He realized the absurdity - given the creases in her face, she had to have been in her
late sixties, maybe even seventies. Something was bizarre about that - hardly anyone lived that long in the capitol, much less out here. This area
was patrolled yes, but tame? Lord Aomm in heaven, no. She had no weapon, and barely any supplies with her - just a small leather scrip.
He pulled out a bowl and offered her stew, which she accepted. There was a feminine grace to her movements, and when he studied her face, he saw a
vestige of what was once great beauty. Something was strange about her, and yet, so incredibly familiar.
"Why aren't you eating, boy?"
"I eat when the women are done, my lady."
"You're from Avaanse, then, yes? You have a kir?" He bowed his head to her.
"Yes, my lady, I have an a'akirjutama." He pulled aside his traveling cloak to expose the glittering coin-sized jewel embedded into his
chest. Like all men with kir over their hearts - some had one in their forehead - his shirts and tunics left it exposed. A small metal ring
joined with the gold of the kir's setting.
"Perfectly clear. You must be a good boy," she teased.
"I do as I'm told, my lady. You have no need to worry, you will not need to Correct or Command me."
She snorted, a strangely delicate sound. "I have no need of such a ridiculous and misguided device, boy."
"Ridiculous? Aomm knows all men are savages unless they are restrained. Everyone knows that. Without the kir, humanity would have died out
"Aomm knows, does he? Why is it that people always think they can say what Aomm knows? Really, what does anyone truly know about God?"
"Aomm knows everything..."
"You are correct there, at least. Now sit down and eat, boy, you've no meat on your bones."
"Yes, my lady," he replied, obediently getting some stew and sitting on the grass.
"I don't bite, boy."
"I...it wouldn't be..."
She arched an eyebrow at him.
"Yes, lady," he said, getting up to sit next to her on the log.
"Now, tell me about your home," she commanded him.
He was shocked. No woman in Avaanse cared two whits about a man's life. Women's lives had much more important things to worry about than what a
simple-minded man did or thought. The women administered and commanded. Men obeyed. And died, he thought.
"Ah...hm," he stammered.
"You do have a home, yes?"
"Braeghe Maarke, my lady. I live on the estate on Lake Naonn. Well, now I live at the Bastion in Avaanse, but Braeghe Estate is where I grew
"You are a Lanceguard then?"
"Yes my lady."
"You're not telling me the truth, boy. Not all of it, at least." Her eyes twinkled, almost mischievously.
"No mere townsfolk bought that jewel for your kir. In fact, there are only a few Houses in Aavelae that could manage it, which means you're
a Braeghe yourself, not just some servant. Since you are obviously not Lady Lura, you must be Gaalen, Lord Captain of Braeghe Color, yes?"
Caught, he dipped his head.
"Why are you here?"
He looked away into the forest. "I...visit here, sometimes." Something compelled truth from him, even though she had not Commanded him. He
thought back years. A foolish patrol, a fresh new cadet. So much blood.
"It wasn't your fault, Gaalen."
"What...what did you say?" His head whipped around. The scars on his back pulled and burned. Suddenly, he noticed. The hoots of the
ges'etaaken and the braying of the dying torpae had disappeared. The forest had gone silent, and his senses all kicked into high gear
and he shot to his feet.