But you just got here…

Jinsoku approached the gate with his duffel bag on his back, Dave was walking alongside him. He didn’t have his pack, but then he wasn’t going. Za was close behind. Jinsoku spied Hans, in tunic and leather skirt with his green tartan thrown over his shoulders, and Seidr, wearing a borrowed set of aelf armor, already waiting at the gate. Rude backpacks sat on the ground beside them.

Jinsoku spied a familiar looking raven perched nearby. “Dude, is that your raven? He came over with you?”

“Um, yes, you guys remember Poe? He just turned up.” Hans winked knowingly to his friends.

Jinsoku’s confusion was only momentary. “Uh yeah, Poe. I’m so glad he’s OK.”

Dave caught on right away. “Good Ol’ Poe.”

Za caught up with them, stopping right next to Jinsoku. “I was going to do something about that bird. I am glad to have deferred, Lord Madison.”

“Ah, yes. I guess he got drawn into the same portal I did, but ended up at the hall instead. Then he followed me here somehow.”

“Amazing” was Za’s dry comment.

“He’s very smart. Knows a lot of words too, don’t you Poe?”

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

≪I prefer Yeats, m#yself.≫

Seidr took over. “We’d best get moving. We have a lot of walking to do.”

Dave seemed confused. “Can’t you just open a portal?”

Seidr waved a hand. “Oh, easily. But while mine don’t attract the kind of attention that Gná’s do, their loci are easily known. So we want to put on some distance before I open one.”

Dave nodded then frowned. “I wish I could go with you. Just think, a genuine quest. But I have some patients that aren’t out of danger yet. You guys be careful. I won’t be there to haul your sorry asses out of battle.”

They headed out the gate as Dave waved goodbye. A number of elves waved too, but they were clustered around Dave.

 

* * *

 

As they walked, Memnir landed on Hans’ pack.

Jinsoku barely heard Hans whisper, “No, that’s fine.”

He needed to know more about that bird. “Madison, can we talk about Poe?”

Seidr stopped. “Za?”

Za stopped as well, causing the distance to open between the two of them and the men. Jinsoku knew something was up right then.

“What have you been doing with your hair lately? It’s more lovely than ever,” he heard Seidr say, sweetly.

≪Excuse me, have you seen my friend, Seidr? Teases everyone mercilessly.≫

Za stood silent for a moment, then he heard them start walking again, slower than himself and Hans though.

“I wonder that you are trying flattery on me, Friend Seidr. But it does look nicer, doesn’t it? It’s none of my doing though. I just tip my head back and it gets washed. There are some advantages to being the Queen’s sister.”

Hans noticed that Seidr had Za out of earshot. He whispered, “We’ll talk about him later. For now just play along and don’t be surprised at anything he says or does. As far as Za knows, he’s just a dumb bird.”

Memnir squawked.

“Sorry.”

Jinsoku felt his jaw drop. “Whoa. I just assumed you weren’t saying anything because it’s illegal to keep them as pets.”

Za must have picked up the pace. He could hear them whispering to each other.

Jinsoku heard Seidr first. ” . . .the scars aren’t so bad. But my poor shoulder will never be the same.”

“Is sex really part of the spell?”

“Yes, and no. The, um, victim has to have some affection the caster. And sex has always been the surest way to firm up those feelings.” He could almost hear Seidr smirk. “It was what I was planning to do anyway.”

“Was it painful?”

“No, he’s very considerate.”

Za got curt. “I meant the spell.”

“Only at the last moment. It wouldn’t do to have the victim catch on until too late.”

“Remind me to not sleep with any necromancers.”

“I’m the only necromancer in all of Aelfheim, Za. But even if your tastes change, I’m not available. So I think you’re safe.”

≪Good one!≫

Jinsoku could feel the glower Seidr got without even having to see it.

 

* * *

 

Za was getting ready to suggest leaving the trail, when Seidr halted the group at a bend in the road.

“We leave the trail here,” she said.

Madison looked about. “We will?”

Seidr nodded. “It would be just as foolish to draw attention to the road leading to the castle as it would be to draw it to the castle itself. There’s a game trail nearby that connects to a meadow. It should be far enough from the road that anyone tracking us would have no clue of which way to go.”

Seidr headed into the brush.

Za put her hand on Madison’s Shoulder. “Be very careful to not break any branches and once on the trail try not to set foot in any soft earth.”

He smiled. She could see what Seidr saw in this youth. “It’ll be just like playing ninja when we were kids. Right Hasaki?”

Hasaki smiled right back. “Who says we were playing? By the way, you still make too much noise. We’re going to have to work on that some more.”

Hasaki vanished into the trees.

Hans stood a moment, shrugged at her, and also vanished in the trees after a few steps.

Za decided to hurry along. It would be an embarrassment beyond explaining to get left behind this far into the trip.

To her relief Seidr never actually disappeared from her sight. But if Madison or Hasaki were anywhere near, she couldn’t tell. This “playing ninja” was a game she and her warriors were going to be taking up as soon as this little venture was over.

She did catch a flash of bare skin. Probably Lord Madison with his tartan simply thrown over his shoulder. He’d certainly gone native. Last she’d heard kilts and leather skirts weren’t commonly in fashion among the men of his culture. It was rather amusing to see those burly, and hairy, legs of his sticking out like they did. She’d considered suggesting that some trousers be produced, but that would ruin the chances of ever getting Jin into a kilt. Now he had nice legs.

Seidr stepped out of the brush onto the game trail. Hasaki and Madison joined her from out of nowhere. She broke out of the brush onto the trail as well. She hoped she hadn’t embarrassed herself in their eyes.

Hans waved. “I see what you mean about your armor blending into surroundings.”

She pursed her lips. He was trying to make her think he hadn’t seen or heard her. But then she caught a wink from Hasaki so maybe she hadn’t done to badly.

 

* * *

 

Hans did not like traveling on the game trail. He’d had to bend or crouch a number of times to avoid disturbing an overhanging branch or get under a partially fallen tree. At least he could simply step over the logs that the others had to climb over or leap.

Just about the time his back could take no more they broke out into a clearing. It was a good sized meadow completely ringed by trees. Well grazed too, short as the grass was.

Za said, with satisfaction, “This should do nicely.”

Seidr agreed, “I believe so, Captain. Let’s make camp for the night.”

“Camp?” Hans wondered.

Za lectured. “Should the enemy determine that we were here, they will have to guess at how far we may have traveled from our start point. They will have a reasonable guess of when we might have started out. By delaying until morning they will have to guess at a larger area, giving them far more to search. And we will be rested, so that should something unpleasant find us at the other side we shall be all the more ready.”

“I see.”

Jinsoku produced a pair of nylon bags. “Tents,” he said.

Za nodded approvingly. “As they are products of your home, best you and Madison erect them. Seidr and I will collect firewood.”

Hans asked, “Is a fire safe?”

Za looked about. “This is well off the traveled paths and the only vantage points into this meadow are well enough off that I feel no concern that a low fire would be noticed. We should be able to find enough dry wood that smoke will not be an issue.”

Memnir landed on his pack and whispered to him, “I see no creatures of concern nearby. It should be safe enough.”

Hans shrugged. “It’s not like we would be able to hide the fact that we slept here. I’m all for it.”

Jinsoku was already pounding stakes into the ground when Hans unrolled his tent. Za motioned to Seidr and they strode toward the edge of the clearing.

The tent was simple enough to put up. It was basically a two-man pup tent. In only a few minutes he was setting the last stake. He heard feminine laughter approaching and turned to see Za and Seidr heading back with an armload of wood each.

They dumped their load unceremoniously. Seidr grinned at him. He stood and she took him by the hands.

“Dear one,” she asked, “we saw a nice, dry log, perfect to sit upon. A perch for Poe to use as well. Could you bring it here?”

Heading the direction Seidr pointed him in, he found the log in short order. There was no way he could have budged it before, but now dragging it over was a simple matter. He probably could have tossed it over his shoulder. He laughed softly, not only was he running about in a kilt, but getting ready to take up the caber toss as well. They wouldn’t recognize him back home. Not that he was in any hurry to get back, he realized.

A fire had already been built when he got back. Za and Seidr squatted next to it and argued casually over the production of a meal, not over the inclusion of meat, but rather which seasonings to use. They settled on something like a cross between bean chile and vegetable stew. Za grinned and Seidr pouted when Hans said he particularly liked the wild rice they’d used.

Jinsoku collect plates and spoons as everyone finished eating. “Since you ladies cooked, Madison and I will go wash. I hear a stream downhill that should be easy enough to reach.”

Za smiled at him. “Have a care to return before dark. I should hate to lose you to a simple fall. A good warrior such as yourself, that is.”

Hans saw Seidr smirk behind Za’s back. The wink he got, he understood immediately. These two needed help.

Hans walked wordlessly with Jinsoku. He heard more feminine laughter just before they were out of earshot from the ladies. He wondered if it was himself or Jinsoku that was the subject of discussion.

“Za’s a nice lady,” he said to Jinsoku.

Jinsoku nodded, the corners of his mouth turning up. “She’s incredible. But so hard to read. I’m not sure how she feels about me.”

“Not too unlike someone else I know,” Hans replied. “But if I’m any judge, I’d say she’s smitten by you.”

“You think?”

The ground started slopping dramatically, so that they had to pick their way carefully. It was almost a full minute before Hans replied.

“Yeah, I think. She speaks her mind, even to her queen, but she’s barely able to speak to you. And I’ve noticed you have the same problem.”

The stream could be seen ahead, through the trees.

Jinsoku looked down. Not necessarily to avoid a misstep, Hans thought.

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

Hans made a soft bark of laughter. “Well. I’m not one to talk about these things. You know how many dates I’d ever had. I was still a virgin when Seidr healed me. And what we have is unique. But I think I can say the same for you two.”

The kneeled at the side of the stream and began rinsing dishes.

Hans continued. “You need to tell her how you feel. If you don’t, you’ll lose her. And I’ll kick your ass.”

Jinsoku laughed. “I’ll let you, right after I’m done kicking myself.”

Dishes done, and nothing left to say, they turned back to camp. It was just getting dark as the reached camp.

Za stood and stretched as they approached. “First watch will be mine, I will wake Friend Hasaki after the first quarter of the night, then Friend Seidr will take a turn, and last Lord Madison before the dawn, when human eyes will see best. If that is acceptable.”

≪If you had taken me along, I could be the lookout and you could all sleep.≫

Seidr seemed amazed. “You trust me to take a watch?”

“I trust you to protect the man you love. Were something to happen to Friend Hasaki or even I, it would distress him. I think us safe in your care on that account alone.”

“Would that your sister saw me with your eyes, Friend Za. Let us be off to our bed rolls then. We’ve much to do on the morrow.”

Seidr and Jinsoku headed for different tents. Hans started to follow Seidr, but Za intercepted him.

“I am sorry, My Lord, but I must ask that you let me share Friend Seidr’s company for the night we are afield.”

Jinsoku chuckled. “She’s right, Dude. You two make a lot of noise.” Jinsoku took a soft tone. “Anyway, it’s best if we avoid any, shall we say, ‘distractions,’ under these circumstances.”

Hans shrugged. “I didn’t think of that.”

Seidr made an unladylike scowl. “Oh pooh. Very well. But be warned, Captain, if I reach out in the night, it’s not of you I’m dreaming.”

Za stood her ground. An arched brow her only reaction. “It would not be the first time a woman has ‘reached out’ to me since the last of our menfolk were lost. Never have I returned the embrace. I hope you will not be offended at not being the first.”

Seidr laughed, waving over her shoulders. “Good night friends. Good night, My Love. We’ll make up for this later.”

≪Naturally.≫

Next: CHAPTER 22–MEMORY

 

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Copyright AndyOH! (Andrew F. Odendhal)
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This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental.