Character Biographies, Journals, and Stories
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It was a chill and grey day in the forests of the Small Teeth mountains. Cold damp permeated the lush green foliage, and high above the usually brilliant azure sky was shrouded with a blanket of cloud that spread from horizon to horizon.
Iolana looked up at it all through the break in the trees canopy made by the slow-moving stream she stood by. The young druid’s brow crinkled at a sudden flurry of black silhouettes bursting across the pale cloud; starlings that had been spooked from their perches.
“What do you think, Kuma?” She wondered aloud, and the soft fur of a bear’s head touched her fingertips, asking for a scratch behind the ears. Iolana looked down at her companion, the small, dusty-brown bear that still hadn’t grown into her paws. Kuma lent into Iolana’s touch, nudging her knees, restless and energetic. Iolana smiled and gave the young animal a good scruff, and a few firm smacks on the rump to encourage her off, which the cub did. Kuma trotted off to explore a fallen tree and pull at its branches.
Iolana watched her companion go and stood silent for a moment, before wrapping her black braid of curls up atop her head and fixing it there with a smooth stick. Vanity was a trait she’d long since dispensed with, but all the same, liked to keep the dark tresses long. It was an unusual find among her race; most Aasimar were fair haired, though apparently her grandsire had been raven-haired too. That was the only aberration; aside from being a little shorter in stature, Iolana still had the radiant complexion, sunlit-gold eyes, peaked ears and becoming face that was more common of her race.
Though one might count her chosen course in life as an aberration, too.
Iolana rolled up her pant legs to the knees, picked her spear up from the ground and waded barefoot into the water. She pushed the blunt end of the weapon into the water and river plants, loosening little round tubers from the mud. Scrubbing the treats in the water with her bare hands, she’d then stow them away in a deep, handwoven basket. Now and then another plant was spotted and harvested - a juicy stalk from a cattail, or an innocuous weed that might have medicinal properties. Kuma would occasionally bound in and start enthusiastically digging at the mud and hungrily crunching down on the raw roots, until a curious scent caught her attention, and she trotted off to investigate.
Occupied thus, Iolana continued barefoot and knee-deep in water down the riverbank, filling her gathering basket and occasionally chatting to herself. It was hard not to notice the first red and gold leaves gathering in the reeds, fallen from branches above. Pretty little reminders dropped in her path, warning that change was coming.
Ordinarily, Iolana loved gloomy weather with black skies and promises of rain; they usually meant a generous harvest of chanterelles the following days. That, and the wildly peaceful aesthetic of it all. However, as she made her way along the riverbank a sense of unease was growing within. The forests around had lapsed into nervous silence, no scuttling of small animals or gentle whistles of birds. Having come to the end of the water plants where the riverbed turned rocky and shallow, Iolana decided at last to stop and listen.
The disquiet stretched; she’d felt this unease before but it was usually broken by the sound of some predatory or territorial creature approaching. Iolana’s mind then flitted to ‘the Keep’ - no doubt the old castle had a name but she didn’t know it. It was not quite a ruin on the southern foothills of the Small Teeth and had become (she believed) the haunt of necromancers. More than once an unfortunate creation of theirs had found its way into the forests and met a swift end at her hands, or those of the one or two other druids she knew dotted the mountains. But the keep remained there, a blemish, a sore that just would not heal.
“I should have scouted today…” Iolana muttered softly, and with a sigh waded out of the water and up onto the rocky riverbank. A spray of thick white flowers caught her attention, and with a faint smile she took out a small obsidian knife and crossed to the grassy patch where the plant was growing. Yarrow.
“Wounds, bleeding,” she muttered aloud as she cut stems and began to bunch them. “Fever. Women’s cramps. And… aah come now you know this…” She bound the stems with a piece of sinew and attached the bushel to her gathering basket, “Skin problems, wasn’t it?”
Sudden and hoarse bawls echoed up the stream, the call of her young bear. Iolana’s keen ear picked the small changes in cadence and pitch, deciphering the meaning. Kuma had found something.
Iolana put two fingers to her mouth and gave an ear-splitting whistle in response, hitched her gear onto her back and started in a swift and nimble jog downstream. It was almost a relief to be broken out of that tension, despite the new anxiety over what Kuma might have discovered.
Iolana saw the cub first, a hundred or so yards down the river and trotting restless back and forth from her discovery and her surrogate mother. It wasn’t until Iolana rounded a bend in the river’s course that she discovered the source of the forest’s disquiet that day. The sight of it made her stop short.
A figure lay half obscured by brush and rock, but was unmistakable by the grimy white shirt at red jerkin… it was a body, laying on the pebbled banks, with a hand reached out to the water’s edge.
The shock of it kept the woman rooted to the spot for a moment. Was that really a person? All the way out here? How long had it been since she’d seen another human or elf? The indecisive moment couldn’t last; Iolana’s nature got the better of her, and before she could think to act she was already moving with hurried footsteps forward.
The man - for it was a man, she could now discern - was face down, as if he had stumbled down the rocky slope and collapsed before he could quite reach the waters edge. Though ragged and dirty his clothes appeared of a very fine, almost regal make, the russet red jerkin embroidered with gold thread, the pants and boots neatly fitted. It only added to the puzzle; to see a person out here was one thing, but a nobleman?
Iolana cautiously slowed, then crouched when she saw a movement of the man’s shoulders. When she reached out to touch him his fingers bunched weakly in the gravelly sand of the riverbank. Then, cautiously and ever so gently, she turned him onto his back, a careful hand supporting the man’s head.
She drew in a small breath, blinking with minute surprise and pleasure. He was quite handsome, despite the smears of dirt and dried blood, and the long and tangled mane of dark brown hair. Iolana carefully pushed a few of those bedraggled locks back, picking scraps of red and gold autumn leaves from them.
Kuma grumbled with curiosity and came closer, sniffing at the man’s face. Iolana smiled to the bear a little.
“He’s a strange thing to have fallen in our path today, hm?”
The quiet of her voice roused the man a little and his eyes cracked open, lifting to meet hers. His thoughts in that moment were unreadable, but his gaze fixed with hers, holding the two in place as the moment ticked by… Iolana offered a reassuring smile, gentle and kind before recalling what she should be doing. Quickly she adjusted their position, supporting his shoulders a little more with one arm to encourage the man to sit up and fumbled for a waterskin with her other hand. Biting the plug loose, she carefully put it to her patient’s lips and bade him to drink.
He did so, weakly swallowing at first but then more hungrily until Iolana had to pull it away.
“Not so quickly, you can have more in a moment.” She took that moment to give him another cursory look over; he shivered, and Iolana tugged her cloak free from her neck, wrapping it haphazardly over him. Had speaking with another person not been such an unfamiliar act by now the young woman might have offered more cooing and kind words to comfort him; as it was, she just gently rubbed his arms to get the blood flowing again.
“What’s your name?” She asked. The man swallowed hard, revived a little, and parting cracked and dry lips replied:
The druid nodded mutely, the sound of another human voice a little strange after so long. In lieu of replying, she carefully put the waterskin to Aiden’s lips again, letting him take sporadic sips that bought her time to figure out what exactly to do.
Last edited by LivT
on Mon Dec 03, 2018 8:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Iolana grunted as she hoisted Aiden’s weight up, encouraging the semi-conscious man up the slippery and mossy incline while Kuma obediently followed behind. At first the short journey had been easy enough; the injured man seemed somewhat revived and Iolana had little trouble guiding him through the dense forest. But the slow climb up to the rocky outcrop that hid her camp was taking its toll; the path was narrow, awkward, and increasingly steep; every other step made Aiden flinch and wince in pain, a fresh patch of red blooming on the makeshift bandage wrapped around his leg.
“Not much further,” Iolana repeated, herself huffing and tired from carrying more and more of Aiden’s weight. Her bare foot slipped now and then on stone and a little mud, the faint drizzle of rain sticking in her hair and worsening the fine dew of sweat on her brow. Soon however they reached the canopy of the trees below, the ground evening out to meet a sheer wall of dark rock. Following it along closely lead at last to the overhang of stone, the space underneath hollowing itself out into a wide, shallow cave.
“There, made it, you made it, alright?” Iolana huffed - perhaps a moment too soon. With those words it seemed Aiden gave in to the crippling exhaustion, and the woman supporting him yelped out as the weight suddenly doubled and he began to fall forward. Iolana nearly crumpled to the stone with him, and after a few futile attempts at rousing the man, decided she would simply have to drag him the rest of the way in.
It was inelegant work, and if it hurt Aiden he was too insensible to say much about it. Iolana lay him on her ‘bed’ - a faint dip in the rock that had been piled with hay and covered with a pelt - then plopped down onto her backside and wiped the moisture from her brow.
“Heavier than you look, you know?” Naturally there was no response from him. The druid allowed herself a moment or two of rest; any more was out of the question, as it was time for the real work to start. Using wood from some stores tucked further back in the cave she rekindled the little hearth fire, and filled a small hide pot with water from the rain run-off just outside and what remained in her waterskin. It was hung carefully over the fire to boil; while ever the water remained above the height of the flame, it would safely boil and the hide would not burn.
Next she raided a stone cache, one of many that she’d tucked away in various caves through the mountains. Iolana had a few favoured base camps in the massive forest she called home, but almost all of what she needed was carried with her. Anything else such as spare tools and pouches of dried herbs were sequestered safely away either for herself, or perhaps another who one day might need them more. In this instance she drew out a rather fine (if old) piece of folded linen and set to cutting it into long strips. The strips were added to the pot of steaming water along with pinches of herbs from her medicine bag, and cuts of the fresh yarrow.
From the cache she then took a stick of dried sinew, hammering it into frays with a stone and carefully peeling away long, thin threads. These too were added to the pot to soften and sanitise.
This done, Iolana set about properly examining Aiden. His clothes were soaked with rain, sweat, and mud, mottled with blood around his wounds; without much of a thought she began to strip the clothing away, boots first then carefully peeling off the rest of the items. The fabric had stuck here and there, particularly around the deep gash on his calf muscle which ruptured and started bleeding anew.
The garments left aside to dry, the man lay almost nude on the bedroll, save for the small clothes he was left with - a small mercy for modesty. It wasn’t modesty on Iolana’s mind right then; her concern was only what had to be done to save the stranger’s life, and set to solving the problem immediately.
Gentle hands began the examination; a cut to the right arm. Prominent but not life threatening. Scratches and grazes here and there, a little inflamed, perhaps from some poisonous scrub he must have wrestled through. Bruising on the torso… possibly a broken rib? She prodded it gently and Aiden flinched and groaned in his sleep. A little spongy; broken but luckily nothing so severe as to threaten a puncture to his lungs.
It was his right leg that gave her concern; his ankle was badly swollen though judging from his limited ability to walk, probably not broken, more likely sprained. The cut however was deep and inflamed, parts shone with the beginnings of pus and the lips of jagged skin around it were grey and necrotic. The wound was sick, dangerously so and Iolana feared her basic abilities might not be enough to stop the blood from poisoning.
So, that was where she started.
She took to cleaning the wound with the warm, herb-infused water and a scrap of the boiled cloth, flushing it and frowning at the limited blood that seeped from Aiden’s muscle and skin. Living flesh bleeds, she recalled, and began to feel a little queasy at the thought of what she must do next.
From the medicine bag, she drew out a smaller wrap of rabbit-skin, containing a few precious needles she had painstakingly hewn from bone during a long and blustery week last winter that had kept her confined by the hearth fire. Even the thinnest and finest of them wouldn’t quite match its steel cousin, but would have to suffice. These too were cleaned, along with the razor-sharp obsidian dagger.
Gripping the dagger firmly, Iolana shuffled back to Aiden’s side and drew a steadying breath. Gently, carefully, she started to slice away the thin ends of necrotic skin from around Aiden’s wound. It was nerve-wracking work, Aiden still flinched and made his wounded noises that Iolana tried her best to block out. Soon the gash was not only clean, but neat, and the capillaries of the skin flowing with fresh red blood. Then came the long process of suturing.
Iolana hunched over, peering at the wound in the firelight as she carefully began to sew the angry flesh back together with the sinew thread and bone needle, musing only once that suturing another person’s injuries was so much easier than her own. Aiden had gone quiet, his breaths shallow but even as Iolana worked. Inch by inch, flesh and skin were drawn neatly together.
Finally she fixed the last knot and snipped the thread free, frowning at the wound. It was in improvement to be sure, but the angry red skin still had her worried. A poultice would have to do to draw out the sickness in the wound, she decided, at least until he was awake enough to drink any remedies.
“Wood garlic, lavender, witch hazel…” she mused aloud to herself, hunting through her knowledge and comparing it to her stockpile of herbs. Ginger root would have been nice, but not an option. Willowbark to treat his pain. “Rosemary… yarrow, of course.” Iolana glanced down at the cut on his arm and nodded. Yes, that fresh yarrow was going to be a blessing here.
The work was far from done however. She took the cleaned bandages from the pot and hung them carefully to dry. Next was to cut a long strip of bandage from her thinner cloak, firmly binding up Aiden’s injured foot and ankle. The bruised torso would need to care for itself, and she moved on to the cut over his arm, gently cleaning it and dabbing it dry. The fresh yarrow was then crushed down into a poultice and carefully applied and bound in place, the same then to the sewn-up wound on his calf.
With the last of his major injuries tended to, Iolana cracked her knuckles and closed her eyes for a moment. Holding her hands out over the body before her, the soft light of a healing spell radiated from her palms and bled into Aiden’s skin. The smaller of his injuries, the bruises and abrasions, soon wiped clear like dirt being washed away before the flow of magic eventually ran out.
Iolana dropped her hands, at last straightened her back and stretched, her mind returning from that place of intense concentration to the greater world.
“I need to get better at that,” she mused quietly.
The sound of Kuma’s yawn was her only answer; the bear had been laying by the fire and wisely staying out of Iolana’s way, but now sensed she could at last approach. She padded over and curiously sniffed at Aiden and the rich poultices that covered his wounds. Satisfied that this strange human was their friend - for her ‘mother’ Iolana seemed to have decided it - the bear settled down and started to doze.
It was already dark out, the sun having vanished completely behind the rain clouds and mountain tops. Repairing the broken body had taken far longer than Iolana had thought. Did she have enough herbs to make the poultices and teas? Surely yes… at least till she could forage more tomorrow. Iolana squeezed her eyes shut and cracked her neck side to side, sighing with satisfaction as the tension released. Then she looked back down at Aiden.
The urgency of his treatment now gone, Iolana was suddenly aware of a few things - first and foremost, his near nakedness. It had been maybe two years since she’d last seen a person, certainly longer still since she’d set eyes on one almost completely nude. The body before her was now not a broken thing to be mended, but a person, real and warm and thankfully, alive. The notion brought a hot blush over her cheeks; Iolana leant forward slightly, examining him in a new light. Her gaze followed the contours of his body, distracted often by older scars, suggesting he’d seen his fair share of fights. Perhaps he was more than a nobleman, then?
“But where did you come from…?” Iolana frowned at his face. Human to be sure, so he was probably much younger than he looked. Twenty? Thirty? She’d never been terribly good at guessing human ages. If he’d collapsed from dehydration as she thought, he must have been wandering for at the very least two days without water. She suspected he could have been a little longer still without food, the oldest of his wounds looked to be four or five days old.
Her gaze lingered until a thought abruptly intruded; that if their positions were swapped, she would not like a stranger staring at her so. A little ashamed of herself Iolana pulled her cloak up over Aiden’s body, then a spare pelt over that, and scooted away to start grinding up the herbs for the medicines. Outside the rain grew heavier still, and the night sunk into impenetrable darkness.
Written by: LivT
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Aiden's recovery was not a fast one. The poultices and attention to his wounds kept some sickness at bay, but there other ailments not so easily treated. The man was weak from inanition, rarely lucid enough to take a drink of medicine or broth. His skin by degrees grew hotter, the faint fever sending him into spasms of chills or restless panting and for the next day and night he remained trapped in a sleep nothing could coax him from.
It wasn't until the third day, when his skin was burning hot that at last he flung the cloak and pelts from his body. The sudden shock of cold morning mist on his bared skin and forehead jarred him; his head throbbed painfully; a parched throat and dry lips demanded a drink, and reluctantly, Aiden Vega opened his eyes.
He stared up at a natural stone ceiling, one with a distinct patch of black soot. The bed beneath him had the thick but coarse texture of a pelt, though the straw under it had a herbal scent his didn't recognise.
Water, his body begged, and the man swallowed a dry lump in his throat and licked cracked lips. Consciousness was returning fast; he rolled his head to get a better view of his surrounds. There was the campfire that caused the black patch above, some small cooking apparatus... and lent against a stone that had been shaped into something of a stand was a drinking horn, fully to the brim with clear water. It looked innocuous enough, and desperate as he was with thirst, didn't question it. He reached out a weak hand, propped up on the other elbow with a wince, and drained the horn without once stopping for breath.
The portion wasn't nearly satisfying - he could have drunk a lake in that moment - but it did slake his thirst and rouse him enough to better take notice of where he was.
The small, shallow cave was cast in a hue of cold blue that by degrees was warming with the sunrise. From the mouth of the cave Aiden could just make out branches and treetops of a dark forest that vanished into the mist. The campsite was somewhat sparse; the more he looked the more he began to notice the absence of usual gear; proper bedrolls, metal cookware and utensils, the like.
Lastly, Aiden's gaze fell on a drying rack of herbs where some familiar items of clothing were hanging, and in a sudden moment of realisation looked down at his body, properly noticing his nudity for the first time. Someone had dressed his injuries well, but in his current state, that information was shoved to the back of his mind.
"You're awake!" A female voice from the mouth of the cave got his attention - he hadn't heard her approach from outside. She carried a spear in one hand, dressed in a collection of worn garments in hues of dark green and hide, and for her own reasons walked barefoot. The attire marked her as a druid, as did the young bear that stood at attention by her side. A mass of dark curls bound up scrappily from the woman's face, but her skin had a strange luminosity he couldn't immediately place.
Aiden had been confronted with the sight of a lovely young woman, who despite her attire had the mien and accent of good breeding and respectability -
And he was naked.
A vermillion blush that had nothing to do with fever blossomed over Aiden's cheeks and he scrambled to pull the cloak up over himself.
"How are you feeling? You must be famished."
"Youíre the one who found me?" Aiden managed to croak out and the woman paused, halfway through hunting through a basket she'd slung off her back.
'Yes, I am," she replied with bemusement. Aidens initial gratitude was blindsided by a fresh wave of embarrassment when he realised:
"You undressed me!"
"Yes? Er, you have your undergarments on, you're hardly nak-"
You don't just undress people!
The druid straightened and put a hand on her hip; evidently, this was hardly the greeting she'd expected.
"You do when they're injured and the clothes they're wrapped in are wet, freezing and filthy. How else was I supposed to examine you?"
A little abashed, Aiden scrambled for a rebuttal.
Quiet hung in the air, and slowly the woman's face broke into a laughing smile. She shook her head and went to the herb rack where Aiden's clothes hung, dry and clean though still quite ragged. Doing her best to hide her amusement at his bashful expression, she tossed him the clothes and politely turned her back to let him slowly pull them on. It was impossible to hide the laughter in her voice.
"Do let me know when you are decent, good sir."
Aiden glared at the back of her head; her tone... it was that sort of light sarcasm he'd heard often enough from young ladies of good breeding but dry wit. Once he had his shirt and trousers back on though, he felt a little less vulnerable and a little more moved by her chuckle. He cleared his parched throat.
"...Alright. Decent," he muttered.
She turned around, golden eyes still shining with a teasing smile, "There, you're a picture of respectability."
Aiden huffed a single laugh before the sharp pain in his ribs made him wince and gasp. In an instant the young woman's teasing vanished, and she moved quickly to encourage him to lean back against a boulder, before snatching up the drinking horn and filling it with something that had been simmering in the hide pot over the fire coals.
"Sorry. You've broken a rib or two, my spells have helped them along but they'll be tender for a while yet. Try to breathe low into your belly, slow and easy. Here," She brought him the drink, kneeling next to him on the pelt, "It will help with the pain."
"Thank you..." He drank and made a face at the bitter concoction, but desperate thirst helped him to drain it all. Cool, soft fingers rested on his shoulder, and when he looked at the young woman the concern was obvious in her features.
I'm sorry," Aiden said, "I must have sounded so ungrateful just now."
Her amusement returned, golden eyes shining with a smile. "Not ungrateful. Just a trifle ridiculous."
"Well, thank you for helping me. Gods know you had no obligation to."
She shrugged, "Well, letting you die wouldn't have achieved much, would it?"
Aiden tried not to chuckle for the sake of his ribcage, and now that the druid was in closer proximity, he properly noticed the glittering gold of her irises and her moon-beam complexion. In the back of his mind he'd assumed she was an elf, or half-elf, the dark hair and pointed ears suggested as much. But no... eyes like that could only belong to an Aasimar.
An awkward silence had fallen between them; both clearly had a series of questions for the other, and both it seemed, were a little rusty when it came to navigating social norms. It was the druid who broke the silence, holding out a hand.
"Iolana," she greeted, and Aiden took her hand gently shaking it.
"Aiden," he replied. The cub that had been hanging back cautiously approached on seeing the friendly exchange, following Iolana's lead.
"And this is Kuma." The druid ruffled the bear's fur and indicated for Aiden to do the same. It won the cub over rather quickly, caution turning into bumbling excitement and joy at the prospect of a new friend. Aiden wheezed and tried to push the cub away when she made an attempt to crawl into his lap - for, young as the bear was, she was still at least 170 pounds. Iolana gently pulled the bear back, snapping her fingers to get Kuma's attention and gestured for her to sit and be still.
"He's hurt, baby. Must be gentle."
"Friendly for a bear," Aiden commented with a pained smile, easing back down. Iolana gave a wry grin and shrugged.
"Still a child in many ways, but she'll grow out of it. Kuma was the one who actually found you, down at the riverside... do you remember much of that?" She got up to refill the horn, and when it was returned to him Aidan drank to avoid answering for a moment.
"No... I don't think so... I know I heard the water, I was trying to reach it."
Iolana nodded, "And how was it you came to be in that state, in these forests? You're a far way from the 'civilised' world."
In trying to remember, a myriad of images tumbled through Aiden's mind at once, disjointed but clear. Waking on a stone slab to masked faces above. The fuzzy absence of mind, the fighting, endless fighting to escape... the sound of horse hooves hammering over a bridge... a figure falling into the darkness. The information was there, but his addled mind simply couldn't uncover it and piece it together - much less form any sort of coherent narrative.
Aiden didn't want to lie to the druid. He owed her his life, he knew. But he also had no desire to relay the dark and confusing memories that crowded his head.
"I escaped from... I'm not sure where. I had to fight my way out... and just ran deeper into the forest. There were paths but they kept turning around on themselves." Days he had been wandering, he knew that, if only to put space between himself and where he'd come from. The pain, confusion and anxiety was plain on his face, and Iolana encouragingly patted his shoulder.
"It's alright. More will come to you, you just need time to convalesce. I only need to know one more thing." She locked eyes with him, "Is there anything that would be willing to follow you into these mountains?"
Aiden remained quiet a moment, then cautiously nodded, "I think there could be."
Iolanaís lips twisted, and she nodded, lost in thought a moment. Eventually she sprung up and dusted herself off.
"Well. You must be starving by now, and you look paler than a frost giant. Get some rest, I'll fix you something up."
Aiden tilted his head, a cold lump in his core starting to be warmed by the friendly attention and care. Slowly, he eased himself back down onto the bedroll.
"...Why are you being so kind to me?"
The druid glanced up from the foraging basket she was sorting through and quirked an eyebrow.
"After all the trouble I went to sewing up that leg, I think it'd be a little counterproductive to have you die of starvation on me. You call it kindness, I'm just being pragmatic."
Aiden smiled with a little confusion, and shook his head.
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Mon Dec 03, 2018 1:28 pm
After that first conversation, Aiden’s moment of lucidity was followed by the fitful stupor of fever. He slept for long periods but was never rested, slumber constantly broken by nightmares that made him murmur and thrash. Iolana did her best to ease this, quietly talking or humming to ward such invisible demons off. It sometimes worked… but the nightmares always returned.
The fourth day passed, then the fifth, and as the sixth drew to a close Iolana was determined to break the fever once and for all. She used an old skirt soaked in chill water, padding under Aiden’s arms, around his neck, and over his forehead. Back and forth, back and forth, soaking the fabric, wringing it, cooling the feverish body, over and over, the routine only interrupted when more water had to be drawn. The furs and grasses of the bed were quickly soaked.
As Iolana was ready to keel over herself, a sheen of sweat finally bloomed over Aiden’s skin, beading and running free and taking the searing vermillion flush of his skin with it. His breathing eased, later, his eyes slowly opened, and Aiden Vega was finally out of danger.
Vivacity quickly followed and it wasn’t long till Aiden was almost constantly entreating Iolana to give him something active to do, for her work, it seemed, was never done. Foraging, preserving food for the winter months, crafting tools and gear, preparing medicines, gathering water or firewood, not only in preparation for the coming winter, but to provide for Kuma and her invalid patient.
An excursion was finally agreed to; Aiden needed the exertion, and was all but begging for a place to properly bathe away nearly two weeks of grime. It could hardly be refused, and on a clear day with warm, still air, the pair set out into the mountains.
The track was at first easy, the woodlands placid, and conversation between the two though broken was not particularly awkward. Gradually the foliage around them thickened and darkened, and the air cooled a little as they wandered lower. Soon, Aiden’s curiosity about his guide got the better of him.
He pushed a large fern frond out of his way as he limped along through the forest behind Iolana. “You know the place like the back of your hand… How long have you been out here, exactly?”
“Hm… this winter coming will be my fifth.”
“Five years? That’s a long time to spend alone…”
“To some, perhaps. There are other Druids here and there; once or twice a year we might call on one another if we’re nearby. Besides, I’m not really alone, I have Kuma now.” Upon hearing her name spoken, Kuma trotted over and curiously bawled gently to Iolana, who grinned and crouched down to scruff the bear’s fluffy, fat cheeks, “And one day, she will be very big and strong, won’t she?”
With that, Iolana gave the Kuma’s muzzle a noisy smooch as a mother might her infant, and encouraged the bear to go tumbling playfully ahead.
“As if she weren’t big enough already,” Aiden observed, “How did you get your hands on a bear cub?”
“Her mother was murdered by two sportsmen from the lowlands.”
“Oh…” Recalling ‘murdered’ wasn’t really the common term for an animal, she explained, “They only wanted her for a trophy. If Kuma were caught too she’d likely have been sold to some nobleman’s menagerie.” Iolana summoned a smile, “So, I fixed the issue. Kuma stays with me now and… none of those men will ever be able to hold a bow again. Now, give me your hand, the path down is steep and I won’t have you falling.”
Aiden looked on with playful suspicion, then allowed himself to be helped down the steep incline as it wove between boulders and roots. Here the noise of the nearby waterfall grew louder, a gentle and constant drumming of water on stone.
“You were highborn… weren’t you?”
“You ask an awful lot of personal questions for a man who can’t answer any of his own,” Iolana returned, bending around a tree branch and stepping into a tiny space of green that banked the deep pool of the waterfall.
It was clear then why this was a favorite haunt of the druid woman. The pool was framed on one side by a tall, dark grey wall of stone, mottled by vines and moss that clambered up its great height. The water that cascaded down was gentle this time of year, fed not by snow melts but only the springs higher up in the mountains. It had dug out a deep and peaceful pool that drained away into a bubbling stream and trickled down into valleys far beyond. This scene of tranquility was lined by the rich green forests and sky-scraping conifers, their protection there from wild winds allowing them to remain eerily still.
The sunlight poured down through the break in the canopy, catching and glittering in the mist, and a little unexpectedly in Iolana’s skin. It seemed to refract in her celestial blood, creating a gentle, pale glow around her body. The effect was commonplace enough not to bother her, though it seemed to distract Aiden from the lush scene that surrounded them.
“Here, you can stand under the water a little on this ledge, or rest on that rock, it makes a small shallow in the pool,” Iolana said, “Don’t get your sutures too wet, no swimming. They’ll be redressed when you’re done.”
“See I thought it was the accent that gave you away as a courtier; it turns out you’re just a little despotic.”
“Despotic?” Her insult took a moment to melt away into amusement, seeing the teasing twinkle in Aiden’s eye, “I assure you, I’ll be much worse if it saves me the trouble of amputating a leg.”
He laughed, and gave a slight bow of his head, “My lady, I gladly submit to your benevolent tyranny, if it means keeping all my limbs.”
With laughing eyes, Iolana gave her head a light shake.
“Here, just in case.” She handed him a crude stone axe, more often used for chopping deadwood but made an effective weapon in a pinch. “I’ll give you some privacy. Kuma!” Iolana gave the bear a clear hand gesture when it approached, and what seemed like a meaningless noise of a command. Kuma obediently eased herself down onto her belly, wide eyes watching the Druid as she retreated up the fern-covered slopes and into the dense forest.
I’d have liked a swim myself… she thought with some disappointment, and made a silent decision to do so tomorrow. The civilised notion of modesty had all but lost its grip on her, Aiden however, seemed to have a far stronger sense of propriety. He’d gotten comfortable enough with having his wounds tended, but things like dressing and undressing, it seemed, still required a good level of privacy. Iolana deemed it a small enough concession, and humoured it.
She spied pale gold chanterelles clustering and creeping up the sodden trunk of a tall tree, and stooped to gather them up. It was a beautiful day for foraging; clear, warm skies and still air let the light dapple through to the ground, but unwilling as she was to stray far from the sound of the waterfall, the young druid took her time and allowed her thoughts to wander.
He’s a little odd… not at all silver-tongued but I suppose that has a charm of its own. I wish he weren’t quite so shy. That thought pulled a little frown onto her lips. The years of solitude hadn’t been painful for her - by nature she was quite solitary - but the arrival of an amiable young man into her world had stirred a few simple human desires. More than once she’d had an urge just to sleep next to him and enjoy the nearness and comfort of another person. It was a primitive, primal need for connection… but despite all hopeful appearances, it didn’t seem Aiden would be able to fulfil that.
It’s not the shyness, it’s that you know nothing about him. You have no reasonable grounds to trust the man. Either he really can’t recall what happened to him, or he’s deceiving you. She wandered to a tall patch of wild greens, cutting a few tender shoots away. She liked Aiden, had the wherewithal to admit to herself that his handsome features and cheeky humour probably had a lot to do with that. She also knew, however, that these were feelings that needed to be checked and tempered - to do otherwise with the stranger would be foolishness.
Iolana had become lost in her contemplations, so much so that it was not until the snapping of a twig nearby that she became aware of another there with her in the glen.
Written by LivT
- Posts: 12
- Joined: Tue Sep 18, 2018 8:47 pm
Iolana jolted and looked up the very moment the man’s shadow fell over her; it wasn’t Aiden… it wasn’t any person she’d seen before, though he had a look about him that was quite familiar. He was a broad-bodied man of average height; like Aiden, his hair was worn long and loose though he accompanied this with a short beard. His skin was deep olive, his eyes black and menacing. The mail shirt he wore had been coloured black creating a hard contrast against the crimson tabard that covered it. To complete the picture, a sword could be seen strapped to his back, and a deadly-looking, blood-stained francisca axe hung from his belt.
Iolana stood, taking a few quick steps back and readied her spear. However, the man held up his hand and was speaking before she had a chance to utter a word.
”Calm yourself, druid. There’s no need for you to die today.”
She paused, though when her eyes flickered over his form they landed on an iron talisman pinned to his belt. It was crude, but distinct; a circle, woven through the sides of a triangle.
”You’re from the Keep… you know you and your kind aren’t welcome here.”
”Yes; so you’d know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t of the utmost importance.” His hands lowered, but he still kept his palms peaceably facing her, and taking slow and measured steps forward, ”I am only asking for information, word of an interloper in your forests.”
”Why would I bother helping you?”
”You’ve said yourself, my kind isn’t welcome here… so neither is the man I’m looking for. He is dangerous; I simply want to return him to our master.” White teeth flashed in a sinister, wry smile, “Ahh… you have seen him, haven’t you? It’s written plainly on your face. Shock, fear, confusion… he is quite the charmer, isn’t he? It makes him a very effective liar.”
It took a good deal of self restraint for Iolana not to roll her eyes, but her newfound disdain was evident. The man chuckled.
“I can understand your trepidation, m’lady-“
“You speak as if I have a reason to trust your word over his.” Iolana’s grip tightened on her spear; in truth she was torn and knew no matter what choice she made, it couldn’t be called an informed one. There was but one option; to follow her instincts and those instincts whispered one answer… keep protecting him.
The man’s jaw began to set. “I don’t have time for your stubbornness. I’ve made my request kindly… I suggest you don’t make me ask again.”
Thick silence hung in the air. Iolana was no stranger to combat, but weighing up her opponent she didn’t like her chances.
“…He left a day ago. He wanted to take the pass north.”
“And that’s all you have to say about it?”
Iolana gave a single, curt nod that the stranger mirrored. Then faster than her eyes could perceive he drew his francisca and hurled it, the axe cartwheeling rapidly in the air, the blade ready to crack into her face. Only a stumble backward saved her life, being hit instead on the forehead by the heavy wooden handle. The pain lanced through the druid’s skull and over her brow and she fell backward, landing with a heavy thud. As blurred vision cleared the man was atop her, a hand wrapped around her throat and he held her in place.
“Don’t try to deceive me again; I’ve seen through far better liars than you, it really is a waste of our time.” He drew a small dagger, pressing the cold tip to her cheek and drawing a bead of blood from her moonbeam skin, “Now, Druid, I want you to give me the truth.”
Iolana gritted her teeth, blood pouring into her right eye.
“Get used to disappointment,” she grunted, “…as your bedfellows have.”
With a flash of power, thick, thorny vines erupted from the ground and tangled their way around the man’s wrists and legs, the force pulling him back and holding him aloft. It bought Iolana a few precious moments to scramble off before he tore himself loose, pursuing her with snarled threats and curses.
She turned and swung her spear to block the downward slash of the man’s sword, parrying attack after vicious attack. It was all she could do to stop the blows from connecting; there was little chance of striking him back, until one small opportunity presented itself- between swings he quickly stooped and reached out for the francisca that lay forgotten on the mossy ground. Iolana flung out her hand and a ribbon of fire flew out from her fingertips, the whip of flame lashing around the man’s wrist and searing into his cold flesh.
He cried out in shock and pain and relinquished the francisca, cursing when the flame whip yanked hard on his arm; but such a warrior wasn’t about to be stopped by a single injury. He followed the momentum forward, his sword arcing upward before Iolana could block it-
The gash opened in her armour from hip to sternum, a line of white turning red as her celestial blood began to flow. Iolana buckled with the pain and shock, crumpling forward and curling over her injury… just as the cold, wet steel was placed at her throat.
“You have spirit, I’ll give you that,” he mused, “But if you can’t tell me what I need to know, well… I’ve got no use for you.”
Sudden snarling and bawling; the man looked up just as a flash of brown flew at him, gleaming teeth sinking into his shoulder. He bellowed and swung his arm, sending the young bear crashing into a tree with a sharp and pained moan. But Kuma was only the herald for the real threat, and when the man looked up, his eyes widened in surprise.
Aiden launched into battle without so much as a pause in his step, wielding the stone axe deftly as one would a sword, and now it was the stranger’s turn to be on the back foot. Aiden scraped up the francisca from where it lay and flourished the two weapons, no break in his rhythm or his relentless attack.
There was no breath for witty quips or exposition, no time for threats or taunts; as Iolana watched, her fear for Aiden transformed into quiet astonishment at his prowess, even though he clearly favoured his injured leg and dark circles deepened under his eyes. Her own pain was forgotten, but the helpless whimper nearby sent her quickly crawling to where Kuma lay shivering. Iolana crouched protectively over her companion, hands weaving their healing magic in a hope to preserve the bear’s life.
Behind her the two men fought on, bruises and cuts beginning to litter their skin. The air filled with the singing of metal on metal, the percussion of wood against flesh. When Iolana looked again, she witness the tide turning in the fight. Aiden was perhaps more skilled, more impassioned, but he was sick and injured and his vitality was draining fast. That was when Iolana threw out her hand, summoning magic from the wilderness around.
The Bull’s Strength spell, one she admittedly rarely used and kept in the back of her mind. The magic burst through Aiden’s veins and he struck with sudden and incredible power; the first axe blasted through the stranger’s defence, the second lodged itself deeply into his neck.
A stunned moment of silence followed; the stranger went rigid with shock before his body gave out, crumpling uselessly to the ground. He was conscious a while longer; though the neck was broken his eyes stilled rolled wildly, before the pool of blood around him had grown too large. The eyes stilled, and the mind stopped struggling.
Over him Aiden stood, victor of the field. Half dressed and still not dry from his bathing, the fresh blood spread out over his skin like ink on wet parchment. The air became tense, and after a long moment he looked over his shoulder to Iolana. She could only stare back in quiet astonishment… until her wounds got the better of her. She groaned and folded forward over the massive gash on her torso. Kuma, revived from the Druid magic now pawed worriedly at her, snuffling and trying to lick the wound.
Aiden limped quickly to her, kneeling then wrapping an arm around her shoulders, and encouraged her to lean back into his hold. The movement revealed the cut, a long line that reached across and up her body. Though her bodice had saved her from disembowelment, the cut had still been enough to damage the muscle under her skin
“What can I do?”
“My bag… the red pouch…”
He hunted through her medicine bag, finding the little leather pouch stained with red ochre. Inside was a rich smelling, coarse powder. Iolana grunted and winced as she tried to reach over to take a pinch, but Aiden just shook his head.
“I’ve got you, it’s alright.”
“Mhm- just- straight onto the cut-”
He nodded, carefully sprinkling the powder liberally along the gash, and then another generous pinch applied to the cut on her forehead. Gradually the grimace of pain eased from Iolana’s brow, her breathing slowed, and the blood stopped seeping from the wound. After a long moment she opened her eyes, gaze meeting Aiden’s. He gave her a weak smile.
“We really have to stop meeting like this. “
“Hah- oww- please don’t make me laugh- “
“Sorry… I’m sorry. Is there anything else I can do? “
“I just need to rest, I’ll be able to cast some healing magic soon enough… take some of that powder, use it on your cuts.”
Aiden nodded and gently eased Iolana back to lean against a tree trunk, though sped through tending his own wounds rather carelessly. His concern was for his new friend, and the threat that had followed him into the forest. With Kuma comforting her mistress, Aiden went to inspect the body, crouching by it and turning the stranger’s head to face him.
There was a long moment of quiet; Aiden became rigidly still as the seconds ticked on, until Iolana’s curiosity conquered her pain and exhaustion.
“Aiden… who is he?” Her voice was lowered, something almost of a warning. Aiden slowly stood and cast a pained look to the druid, a look tinted with guilt.
“Iolana… I can’t stay here any longer. Not if there are more like him after me.”
“Who is he?”
Aiden glanced away, eyes pinched, but suffering such a deadly wound as she was, Iolana had no patience left. “That man is from the Keep, meaning he must consort with necromancers, and he was looking for you. I think I deserve to know what’s going on.”
”I don’t know!” Aiden shot back with frustration, “I feel like I know him, I’m sure I do, but… these memories, they’re… it’s as if they belong to someone else.”
“…And what exactly do you see in those memories?”
Aiden looked down at the stranger in contemplation, and eventually began; “We fought together… hunted together, I think. It’s… it’s dark, perhaps a dungeon. We sparred. He wasn’t my friend, that was not a place for friendship, but I don’t think he was my enemy.”
Silence hung thick in the air; something of a cold sweat that had little to do with pain broke out over Iolana’s skin, and her fingers gripped a little tighter in Kuma’s fur. “You were whatever he was… you belonged to them.”
Aiden turned, eyes cast to the ground as he returned to Iolana’s side. He sat beside her and for the first time the faint air of good humour had vanished entirely. His eyes darkened, his jaw set.
“Lana… I’m eternally grateful to you for what you’ve done for me, I don’t want to put you in any more danger if it can be helped. You’ve… you’ve shown me incredible kindness, and this-” he gestured dismissively around them, “This is your reward.... The Gods only know what dangers are hiding in my past and ready to come after me now, but if I’m ever going to figure it out I need to get stronger, I need to get home and find out what on earth happened. The problem - I hate to ask it of you - it’s that…”
“You need me to guide you out of here.”
At last Aiden looked up at her, shoulders sagging, “You have every right to say no. I won’t blame you if you do.”
Iolana didn’t answer right away. She lifted her head, weighed her options, then gave a single nod, “I’ll show you the way out of the mountains.” There was a lengthy pause. “…What?”
“I was waiting for the bargain,” Aiden admitted, a half smile curling over his features, “You know, ‘I’ll guide you out of here, if you do something for me’.”
“Mmm, because after seeing what you can do with those two axes, you certainly look like the sort of man I should try to exploit,” she chuckled, “Bargains… they have a way of limiting one’s perspective to only what they desire. That and it tells the world what your price is.”
“The Keep on the southern hills of the mountains is the haunt of necromancers. They are the old and natural enemies of the druids who live here. If you are fleeing them and they are hunting you, it’s for a reason… so for now it seems the smart thing to do is to keep you out of their hands.” Iolana surprised herself with the explanation, particularly because it had not been her reasoning at the time. Aiden let go of a breath he didn’t realise he’d been holding, and smiled a little.
“I’ll find some way to repay you,” he said, “I swear it.”
“Well… some tea when we get back to camp would be a good start.”