Not All Who Wander Are Lost

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#1 2006-01-25 02:17:37

Midnight Over Frost

When the message arrived, the full moon was sailing over the snow-streaked mountains. The sky was frosted with weak stars and down below, nestled among firs, was a fortress that seemed to withdraw from the crushing hand of nature. Scattered across the walltops tattered pennants rippled uneasily. Men, some half-awake, others asleep, lay still on the battlements. An uncanny silence was in the air. Deep down in cellars, however, it did not penetrate or disturb the wolf and the boy inside.

    The boy with his pale cornstalk yellow hair was hovering on the edge of sleep, curled up against Bugal, the silver and black wolf. Bugal whined piteously, then nipped at Owyn?s tunic. Owyn opened one of his gentle blue eyes and patted Bugal on the head, yawned, and closed his eye once more.  Bugal nipped at Owyn?s nose persistently and Owyn shoved him away but Bugal was tired of sleeping. He gripped the boy?s tunic in his teeth and pulled until Owyn swatted at him and he let go.

    ?All right, I understand! It?s time for a walk.? Owyn growled and lazily pulled himself up, patting his all-to-thin stomach. It rumbled. ?It?s too bad they don?t serve food at this hour.?

    Owyn smiled wryly at Bugal, who was panting happily and staring directly at his master as if to say, ?Well, can we go??

    ?I suppose we do have to be fit, being Messengers and all,? Owyn said to Bugal, rubbing the grit out of his eyes. He groaned miserably and stood, then took off a greasy feather coat from one of the pegs along the cellar?s wall. It was far too big, made to fit a man more like King Dominique. Owyn was glad to wear it, though, as it reminded him of Dominique, for the King had rescued Owyn from the orphanage and made him a Messenger in his army. Because of this, Owyn had been given Bugal and sent to Lentwood Fort where he had spent the summer delivering messages to the village Estopul down through the pass. 

    Though the outings were enjoyable, there were better things to being a Messenger then all the time spent out in the wild. The most wonderful thing about the job was the fact you got fed more than anyone else. The only downside to that was the hate-laden glances from younger soldiers that he and Bugal received.  Bugal had always been regarded as suspicious, even when he was in his prime of health.  If Bugal was allowed to hunt outside of Lentwood, he would be far less shaggy and thin than he was now but some of the military officials were afraid he would go wild, even though he was a guide wolf. Guide wolves were simply wolves that were trained to lead Messengers safely though arctic lands and Bugal had lived up to his training.

    Despite how well Bugal did, however, they blamed the wolf for an accident that had happened a little less than three months ago. Bugal and Owyn had headed down to the village to get supplies with a few soldiers.  The ice was not as frozen as they had expected and as they traveled across the river towards the pass, the ice broke and nearly half the rations were lost, as well as some of the new recruits. 

    The villagers saw but could not help, for they themselves were low on rations, and it was too difficult and dangerous to try to cross again. Thus Owyn went back to Lentwood carrying the bad news.  He himself had witnessed death before. (His parents were killed in the war effort.)  It was a difficult time.  Bugal seemed to get the fury of their anger though it wasn?t Bugal?s fault.

    Bugal gave another whine and licked Owyn?s hand. Owny quickly put on the coat, grabbing a torch from an iron-checkered sconce.

    ?I?m going.? he said, letting Bugal slip past him and up the stairs to the courtyard.

    In the gleam of the silver-blue moon, a dark shape wound its way down towards Lentwood. Its massive wings surged up and down and it carried its slumped-over passenger on its back.  The rider was resting his head against the great beast's neck when he saw the fort, he sleepily pulled himself up. He clapped his hands together and he urged his mount forward.  It tilted its head and shook it, the metallic sound of its harness echoing loudly before being absorbed into the silence.

    "Take us down," the rider said and brushed off the ice that had gathered on the riding equipment, listening to the great whoosh of wings beating around him. The dragon snorted and the jets of steam froze mid-air.

    The purple and silver robed rider patted the dragon's neck and gazed down at the last of King Dominique's famous army. They looked worse off than any of the renegade enemy bands that they had to watch out for.  Thankfully, anyone would know the colors of the King.

    Owyn grasped the tattered coat around him and stepped  onto the staircase that lead up to the battlements. He tucked his fingers inside the fur pockets to keep them away from the biting chill.  Owyn climbed the rickety staircase, looking back occasionally at Bugal, who was sniffing around the courtyard. Suddenly, Owyn saw the shadow of the dragon across the open courtyard and he whirled around.  Bugal shot past him, ears fully tilted forward. He barked sharply and the sentry who had been dozing off jerked awake, instantly seeing the shadow. Owyn ran after Bugal.

    The dragon chuckled.  It was a low, musical sound, much like a loon?s call.  It tossed its head and spoke, ?Sir Benson, it?s good to see you.?

    Sir Benson looked from the dragon to the rider, aghast for having been caught asleep, and replied, ?Sir Eric and his dragon Boonsberry.  I never thought I?d clap eyes on you this winter.?   

    Sir Eric patted Boonsberry fondly. ?Boonsberry and I have made quite a trip for you. I heard that there was some sort of an ice break and that you needed food as soon as possible.  Do you have the Messenger boy we recruited earlier this year?? he asked.

    Owyn, who had been standing by Bugal, said, ?That?s me, sir. And Bugal.?

    Bugal, still wary of the dragon and its rider, stepped a few paces back.

    ?Well then, lad, you and your wolf need some rest. Go and sleep now and tomorrow you will head with Bugal to the village.?

    Owyn wasn?t about to go sleep. He wanted to know what had happened!  Men had begun to awake below, startled by the large serpentine dragon with very extensive tailblades that had landed in the courtyard.

           In a matter of minutes, Sir Eric?s news was known.  The war had ended and they had double food portions that would be carried up to the fort!  Although that was joyous news to be heard, even more joyous news was that they would be sent home to their families in the spring.  They would simply send the Messenger with his wolf down to the village and the villagers would help carry the rations back to the fort.  There were new recruits down in the village as well, seasoned in carrying rations and so forth, and so there was nothing to do but to rest and to wait.  Sir Benson and Boonsberry were fully exhausted and before many could complain, he went and found a cot and fell deeply asleep.  Boonsberry had already fallen asleep in the courtyard and was now snoring softly. 

    The edge of dawn slowly flared across the mountains.  Owyn and Bugal were already on their way, the crusty snow crackling beneath their feet and echoing in the silence of the frozen forest.  Owyn was dressed heavily in furs so much that he looked like an overstuffed bear.  Inside his furry mask, Owny puffed out his cheeks and carefully placed one snowshoe in front of the other.  Down below a hazardous escarpment threaded its way down the mountainside and threatened to be the death of one who was all too careless.  Bugal was scouting ahead, sniffing, testing, listening.  He was on guard completely.

    There was an anxious feeling in the air.  Maybe it was the danger of their task or perhaps it was the taste of hope in the air. Owyn did not know but he decided it was a good feeling.

    The escarpment was close now. It was lined with snow-covered rocks and various debris left from some earlier avalanche, no doubt. Bugal bounded ahead, enjoying his work of plotting out his master?s course.  Owyn remained stoic, and every now and then his eyes flickered to the rising sun or Bugal, who would look back and give a smile of concern and move a little faster ahead.

    Hours passed.  Morning waned on to afternoon and afternoon into evening  They reached the river then, covered in shadows of blue. The river was completely frozen but in the dark of night, even with the wolf?s excellent night vision, it would be perilous, especially since they were weary from their trek.   There was also the rocks to consider as well that jutted out of the ice and could easily send him sprawling to his death, even if they traveled on.

    Owyn managed to set up camp, eat his dinner of rolls, jerky, and some preserved fruit, tossing some of the jerky to Bugal for his supper, and slept.

    Morning came again, all too soon for the tired pair of trackers.  After a short breakfast, Owyn cleared up his camp, stuffing everything but his skiing equipment back into his bags and stepped out onto the ice.  Stuffing a few handfuls of clean snow into his mouth, Oywn patted Bugal and they were off, Bugal screeching across the ice.

    They reached the pass by mid-morning and traveled down it, lost in the cool shadows of the icy rocks that towered above them, wishing they had the friendly warm rays of the sun on them; but they did not complain.

    Down in the village, Lysaillia the tilmander herder sat by the bank of the hot spring in the center of the village.  She had fine, wavy hair and a wiry build, and was petting a nearby tilmander. Tilmanders were sensitive creatures much like sheep, with tiger heads and long salamander like bodies.  The tilmander continued to chomp quietly on the last bits of dead weeds around the hot spring.  Lysaillia stood and brushed off her turquoise wool skirts, then hopped on the saddle around the tilmander?s stomach. She clicked her tongue and the tilmander lazily turned around and started back towards the barn beside the frozen river Ethica in the lazy village of Estopul.
    The tilmander was the first to notice Bugal.  It bellowed and snarled at the wolf and the boy but Lysaillia slapped the tilmander?s neck until it stopped.  On the other side of the river Owyn and Bugal were just coming out of the canyon and were making their way across Ethica. Lysaillia watched them eagerly. She had been charged to bring the boy and the wolf to the food storage shed once they arrived.
    ?Excuse me, young sir!? Lysaillia called and urged the tilmander forward.  ?Are you young Owyn and Bugal whom Sir Benson spoke of??
    Owyn, who had seen the girl and the tilmander from a long way off, raised his gloved mitt in greeting and shouted back, ?Yes, we are. Hold a moment.?   
    Bugal, his inner instincts telling him the ice was solid enough to cross, dashed across the rest of the ice and began circling the tilmander. 
    ?Bugal!? Owyn shouted at him, afraid the girl would be angry but she paid no attention to Bugal, knowing it was more of a show than a fight. ?Bugal, stop!? Owyn hollered again.
    Bugal leapt back from the tilmander as it took a swipe at him.  Owyn cuffed Bugal as he slid  up onto the bank, dragging him back by the neck. Bugal whimpered but calmed down sufficiently. The tilmander hissed softly at Bugal but Lysaillia slapped it in the neck again and it quieted down.
    ?So, you?re Owyn.  I?m Lysaillia. Welcome to Estopul.  The villagers are waiting for you in the storage shed along with the recruits.  Please, follow me.?  Lysaillia turned her tilmander around and they headed towards the storage shed.  ?It?s good to see you. I?m sure you?re hungry. I?ll get you something to eat after you?ve arranged plans with everyone.? She waited patiently as Owyn took off his skis and dropped his equipment on the bank. ?Ready?? she asked and Owyn nodded, ?Then right this way, please.?
    Bugal romped forward and Owyn trotted behind the tilmander and Lysaillia.
    ?What would you like to eat?? Lysaillia asked. ?I?m a fairly good cook, so please feel free to name anything to eat, though nothing too outlandish.?
    ? for my wolf and I. It doesn?t matter.? Owyn replied as they reached the storage shed.
    ?All right, then.  See you later,? Lysaillia said, and kicked the tilmander. Owyn watched her go, and then turned his attention to the storage shed. He opened the door quickly, telling Bugal to say outside, and slid through the door.
    It was steamy inside and the air was thick with noise now that he was within the sound-proof walls. Owyn covered his ears and was about to turn back when Sir Eric grabbed him by the elbow.
    ?Owyn! It?s good to see you?ve made it. Lysaillia said she would bring you here as soon as you got here.?  Sir Eric yelled above the commotion. It was packed inside, filled with men talking and drinking cider. Sir Eric jerked Owyn through the crowd to an open space where a large crate stood.  He jumped up on the crate and began to yell for silence. Eventually it quieted down to a dull roar. By the time Eric announced that Owyn had arrived, it became a low murmur.
    ?What?s the plan, Owyn?? one of the recruits asked.
    ?We leave first thing at dawn. The ice is thick and it should take roughly two days to get back to the fort. You?ll need ski poles and snow shoes. I don?t know what else to say,? Owyn said.
    ?Lysaillia and her tilmanders will be with us.  They will be pulling some of the food supply sleds and Owyn will lead us.? Sir Eric declared, holding up his hand. ?Are there any objections?? No one said anything. ?Then get yourself ready for tomorrow.  Owyn, please go over the equipment with me.?

    It was near mid-afternoon when Sir Eric lead Owyn to Lysaillia?s house. Lysaillia had prepared a meat stew, which Bugal and Owyn ate heartily.  After clearing the dishes, Lysaillia lead Owyn to the living room where she pulled out an old guitar and bade him to sit down.  Sitting on a simple rush mat he listened as Lysaillia plucked at the guitar strings. Bugal was sleeping soundly in the kitchen and Owyn felt more and more at ease as Lysaillia continued to play.
    ?I will sing you a song of Estopul, as it is a tradition in our village to greet any visitors.  It was written by Elranzo Estopul who settled this village and even helped build Lentwood Fort.? Lysaillia said, her voice not breaking the gentle leisure of the atmosphere. ?He was faced with choosing where to settle. His wife begged him to go to the mountains but he didn?t feel that it would be profitable. Eventually, however, he decided to listen to his wife?s counsel and years later, he wrote about the experience.?
    Lysaillia began to sing gently and this is what she sang:

    ?I saw two roads ahead?one of happiness, one of dread
    The one of ill looked so beautiful flowers draped upon its hills
    While the one of happiness was filled with rocks and steep rills
    Each one held its promise?one of easiness but emptiness
    One of truth, one solid and firm but required the sacrifice of self
    Could there be no easier way to the ones in which I desire?
    No, said I, I am the sacrifice this road doth require
    The scrubland to the heath and all is summer fair
    Slippery and dangerous will it be in winter?s care
    But so low in the valley as I climb this hill, I see that the road
    That once looked so beautiful is well-worn and dead
    Too many travelers have walked this road, too many their goals lost
    Too easily we look at autumn and think it?s summer when there is no frost
    We can be slow to hear and tread down that easily way that lead straightaway
    To the pits we call misery, terror, and most of all, despair;
    I would have walked that road too if I did not have one who does care
    So endearingly for me.
    Oh, Estopul, it is thy love that has spared me ill,
    When I wished to walk another way
    Oh, how you guide me with tender care,
    Guard me with spring?s feet and let me ne?er
    Leave this place where winter dies and not many travel here,
    For this is the place I have walked to, the road which was chosen,
    Thy settlers are my ancestors and their perseverance true
    Had they never become the sacrifice this day I would rue
    The wings of freedom, the feet of hope, that has made
    This trek worth all that you and I have become.?

    Lysaillia looked at Owyn for approval at the end of her eloquent song but found that the boy had fallen fast asleep on the mat.  Carefully she put the guitar away in its case and tossed a blanket on Owyn before heading out to the stables to check on the tilmanders.

    Lysaillia arose early to hitch the tilmanders to the sleds and left a bowl of porridge on the table for Owyn. She went about her village business in the cold dark of the morning, rousing the recruits from their beds and telling them to finishing tying the sleds, as they would be leaving soon. When the sun began to rise above the mountains, Owyn and Bugal were out and about, dressed warmly, checking to make sure everything was secure. Sir Eric would not be going back with them to Lentwood and had left last night, so it was Owyn who would say when to leave. After everyone had gathered, he motioned for them to move out across the ice. The tension in the air was light but still noteable and even Owyn himself ignored that sense of urgency that tugged at the back of his mind.
    The sleds creaked and slid smoothly across the river, much to Owyn?s relief, but he kept his eyes on the task ahead of him, Bugal constantly aiding him. The going was slow and once or twice the tilmander straps threatened to break.  The tilmanders themselves were struggling to pull the sleds up the icy pass, despite their ability to pull things across icy surfaces.
    It took four days to get to Lentwood. Four days of sleds and their ropes breaking. But the new recruits didn?t complain, nor did Owyn. Bugal rested a lot when the sleds broke, so it wasn?t so difficult on the wolf as it was on the tilmanders or the humans.
    On the evening of the fourth day Lentwood appeared above them.  The half-tattered pennants had been stripped from the fort and it seemed to glisten with anticipation. Someone on the battlements shouted and the doors were immediately opened. Men came scrambling down the mountainside in a rush of snowflakes, some grabbing boxes off the sleds and clasping the new recruits. Bugal hopped up and down, yelping and barking excitedly, weaving among the soldiers and villagers. Owyn and Bugal ran up and through Lentwood?s wooden doors to find the courtyard blazing with light. Several large cooking pits had been prepared and several kettles filled with melting snow were already boiling. Meat stock and carrots began to appear and drop into the soups as men unpacked the food. Owyn shed most of his warm clothing, it being extremely warm in the courtyard, and began handing whatever he could to the cooks.  Fairly soon the air was thick with delicious and tangy scents. When the food was finished, shouts of praise began all around the courtyard.  Some thanked Owyn, Bugal, Sir Eric, and everyone else openly.
    Owyn felt a deep sense of appreciation he had never felt before, and constantly called attention to Bugal, who was enjoying every minute of all the attention.  The soldiers who had once looked down upon the wolf and the Messenger boy welcomed him to their circle of friends and pretty soon, Owyn was no longer just the Messenger. He was Owyn, hero of Lentwood Fort with his trusty wolf, Bugal.  They had brought a sense of hope Lentwood had lost during the war and now Owyn felt he was at home. Even Bugal seemed to be accepted that night. It was more than Owyn could have ever hoped for.
    That night he lay with Bugal, his stomach feeling like it was about to burst, hovering on the edge of sleep. In a few short days things would be back to normal. Until then, he would enjoy the good food and the friendly company, and his best friend, the guide wolf Bugal.

Feel your presence filling up my lungs with oxygen
I take you in - Rebirthing Full, Skillet


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