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The morning had started out oddly. Mother kept hugging Tarel and Orien and telling them how much she loved them and how proud she would always be of them. Tarel knew that something was going to happen that day, and that it would change his life forever, but he couldn't feel anything else, so it was that he wasn't better prepared when the warriors rode into the village. The men were clearly in a foul mood and it was obvious that one of them was desperately wounded. It was glaringly obvious that these men were not coming from a victorious battlefield. It took only one question to one of the men of the village for the six men to find their way to the small cottage that housed the village's only healer.
The leader of the small group didn't bother to knock; he just barged into the house. "You are the healer?" he bellowed out. "He will live or you will die," he ordered as his comrades brought the wounded man into the hut. He turned then to Orien and barked, "You will bring us food and drink and be quick about it, or I will relieve you of that hump on your back with my sword."
Tarel heard about the men's appearance from some of the gossiping women who walked past while he was training with the village weapons master. He didn't like what he heard about the men and got a nod from his instructor to go home and check on his family. His trainer would gather some of the men of the village to help if they were needed. He slipped in the hidden rear entrance of the hut just in time to hear his mother report to the leader.
"He is gone. The wounds had festered and poisoned him. He should have been brought to a healer much sooner."
"You were told what would happen if he died, woman." She made no sound as her lifeless and headless body sank to the floor of the hut.
"Why did you not wait, Raspien? We could have at least had sport with her before she died," one of the men complained.
"Well, we shall make do with the hump of a girl," the leader snarled.
"I'm not a girl," Orien whispered as he stared at the woman who had cared for and taught him lying on the floor.
"No matter, you will be when we are done with you," one of the men snarled and ripped at Orien's clothing.
A mighty and ferocious animal roar shook the very foundations of the hut as Tarel leapt out of the bedchamber he had shared with Orien, but it wasn't Tarel as anyone but his mother had ever seen him before. There was no look of a human about him. He was a great golden cat, snarling and striking with his claws at the men, gutting one and shredding the throat of another before he landed in the middle of the room. The remaining three men drew their weapons and advanced on the beast in front of them, but within seconds another of their number was bleeding out on the floor. The last two split and circled around the enormous cat, but as they swooped in to strike from each side at the same time a second animal cry pierced the air of the village. A high pitched screech followed by the terrified sounds of a man having his face ripped off by the claws of an enormous, but still clearly young bird. The leader of the men was torn to bits by the cat, which then turned to finish off the faceless screaming man still trying to fight off the bird.
Just as the men of the village burst in the front door of the hut, the bird landed beside the cat and transformed back into the natural, yet naked form of Orien, his black wings joining his arms in encompassing Tarel as he too shifted into a naked teen with golden cat ears sticking up out of his thick blond hair and a long golden furry tail that drooped to the floor as the two boys crawled to the body of their mother.
"Witchcraft!" someone yelled.
"Demons!" screamed another.
"SILENCE!" the weapons master bellowed. "Are you all so simple that you do not know there are other beings in our world? Have none of you ever listened to my tales of travels as a soldier in my younger days?"
"They cannot stay here," one of the men demanded. "They will kill and eat our children."
"Rasmier, will you close that fool mouth of yours, or will I do it for you?" the weapons master snapped. "You speak as if you have not, like all of us here, watched these boys grow from their infancy right alongside those children you are suddenly so protective over."
"Rasmier?" Tarel questioned weakly. "That one was called Raspien," he said pointing to the body of the murderer of his mother. "Was he your kinsman?" All eyes turned to the man in question.
"How do you think our village has been left alone for so long?" Rasmier defended. "My cousin protected us."
"He killed my mother in front of my brother's eyes because she could not save the life of one who was dead when they brought him here. He was dead by their own actions, no less."
"Raspien would never harm his own brother," Rasmier denied.
"No, but he waited until his brother could not be saved before bringing him to a healer," Tarel told them all as he stood up to face the men. "Your protector saw only his own goals, and would have had his men have their way with Orien if I had not stopped them. Is that how you would protect your village children, with rapists?"
"You little piece of demon filth," Rasmier snarled. "You lie to cover your own murders of these good men."
A low growl came from deep inside Tarel's chest as his features began to shift back to a more catlike appearance.
"Tarel, you will calm yourself," the weapons master ordered. He turned to the men of the village. "Have none of you realized that our village has lost its only healer? The only ones here with any knowledge are the boys in this house. Would you send away the only ones capable of caring for your wounds and safely delivering your future children?"
"Better to die in birth than be fed to demons in the night," one of the men returned.
"Your children can all die in the wombs of their cursed mothers," Tarel snapped. "I will not stay in a village that defends scum such as these were another day." He pulled Orien up beside him. "We will take our mother's body and bury her on our journey away from this place. I would not have her final resting place among such ungrateful and small minded idiots. Now be gone from my house, all of you."
"Who do you think you are, ordering us about, boy?" one of the men sneered.
"I am the demon as you call it that has just killed six men that you couldn't have handled in your dreams," Tarel returned coldly. "Do not make me add more blood to this floor."
"All of you, out," the weapons master barked. He turned to Tarel and Orien once the others were all gone, and knelt on one knee reverently. "Tarel, in my days as a soldier, my life was saved in a fierce battle by one of your kind. He gave his life for mine, and I swore that I would someday repay him. I offer you and Orien all that I am in honor of that debt. Allow me to travel with you, and continue to train you both, as well as protect and guide you as much as I am able. I do not know of others like you, but I remember where the one who saved my life said he was from. I can lead you there in the hopes of finding, if not kinsmen, at least more of your people."
"Please do not kneel to me, master," Tarel said softly. "I have no need to search for kinsmen. I have Orien whom I love with all my heart, and in all the memories of my life, there is none that comes closer to being a father to me than you. I will have my family with me as I leave this place behind me."
"I will bring a wagon so that we may remove your good mother from this place of rot and hate, then I ask that you boys help me pack what we may need from my house. I wish to be gone from this place as soon as we can that we do not face an angry mob," the man told them gently.
"Sir," Orien whispered softly.
"Yes, little one?"
"Forgive me for my simpleness, but might I know the name of he who is to be my father?"
"You are far from simple, my little hummingbird," the man chuckled. "I am Chrijo, which you would have known if you had eyes and ears for anyone in the village but Tarel."
"I'm not a hummingbird," Orien pouted sternly, although both Tarel and Chrijo could not help but think him cute as he did so.
"Not a hummingbird, eh?" Chrijo questioned. "Yet with my own eyes I see your wings, and with my own ears have I heard you hum with joy every time Tarel has taken you in his arms when you would be caught spying on his training at my house." The young boy blushed intensely and both Tarel and Chrijo laughed. "Do not fear, my young ones," Chrijo told them both. "I may not have the gift of sight your mother had, but I do have eyes that see what they see. You will not need fear punishment from me for what comes in your lives. I will be as proud of you both the day that I die, as I am at this moment, doubtless more so as I expect you both to give me many more reasons to be so."
The boys grabbed their few possessions, and as much of their mother's healing remedies as they could carry not wanting to leave any of it behind for the villagers that demanded they leave. Chrijo carried their mother's body once they wrapped it in the blankets from her bed. Once they reached his home, several men of the village tried to talk him out of leaving them as he was the best fighter in the village.
"Would a fighter stay in a village with no healer?" he asked them. "You chase away the only two with any healing skills, yet you beg me to stay. If I were to be hurt defending your lives, who would save mine? No, you have made your choice, and like many choices made in life, it carries consequences that you do not wish to bear. That, you pack of rats, is your sorrow, not mine. I leave with the best of this village, and shake the dust of this place from our feet on our way."
Tarel and Orien helped Chrijo load the best of his weapons and the few personal belongings he had into his wagon, along with the things they had brought from their own home. The last thing to go into the wagon very reverently was the body of the boys' mother. They left the only home the boys had ever known behind as soon as they could, wanting to get as far from that place and it's people as they could as quickly as they could. They didn't even stop that first night, but rode on with Tarel and Chrijo taking turns driving the team of horses, pausing only to rest the animals when necessary. They kept a rather slow pace, because although they were all eager to put distance between themselves and the village, they also didn't want to overwork their horses too much. They stopped a few hours before sunset the following day in a peaceful forest clearing, bordered on one side by a gentle stream. It was there that the boys buried their mother. Tarel and Orien were only able to sleep that night thanks to their well-earned exhaustion, although they both fussed at Chrijo the next morning for not waking them, to take their turns at guard duty.
Fort Chief Editor's Notes:
Well, that was definitely a tense and exciting chapter. I do have to admit that it was not what I expected, however, it was very insightful. It looks like Tarel, Orien, and their new 'Father' are going to have very interesting lives. It would be interesting if we were able to check on the village several years later to see how they are surviving.
So where is the next chapter, oh vaunted wordsmith?