Going Feet First Ch. 02byDarkPulse©
Author's note: this story is a direct sequel to my tale, 'Going feet First', and continues to follow Galen, a soldier once in Vietnam, now on an interesting journey into a medieval fantasy world filled with Elves, Magic, and all kinds of interesting creatures.
Welcome to Raska.
Going feet first
Chapter 2: Boots on the Ground
Flames crackled in a small, stone fireplace on one end of a vast log cabin; beside it on the floor sat an aged, feline creature wrapped up in a heavy, wool quilt. Behind the elder, two dozen other Nekonian males and females, both young and old, had gathered at the long table behind him. As the group sat patiently, the door at the far end opened, soft thud sounds following as two more persons entered the room.
Yawning, the elder listened as the steps drew closer to him until he heard two persons take a seat at the table closest to him. With a bit of a tired groan and show of fatigue from his extensive life, he stood up from his spot and walked over to the chair placed at the end of the table, taking a seat and drawing his feet up into his blanket. His attention came to the human sitting beside him, who had a solitary hedge of black hair running down the middle of his head and wore a green jacket bearing an eagle on the shoulder.
Beside the human sat one of the more proficient trackers of his tribe, Mila. He gave her a gentle smile before studying the human beside her with his tired, yellow eyes. When the human lifted his chin up, hand tensing up on the crutch he had beside him, a warm sensation flowed through the aged Neko's pale grey fur. From peering into his powerful, green eyes, the Elder could sense the honor of the human before him as clearly as the bond he held with Mila.
Taking in a deep breath and rubbing the severed stub of his left ear, the Elder turned to the dark-furred warrior sitting across from him at the other end of the table and nodding for him to begin.
The younger Willher stood from his seat, clearing his throat to bring all eyes in the room upon him. "The counsel begins. Human tongue now, because human not know our tongue good. All have explainers to explain when something not... easy understanding?"
"Yes," the entire room announced.
"Good. Today, we talk about human who wants live with us. I: Warrior Leader Sayn, Elder Misn, Lady Akal of the Trackers, Huntmaster Hail, and Lady Teak of Trade will judge argument on human living with us. There will be one argument each, for and against, and then the human speaks. Begin warrior Bein, standing for those against the human."
The Neko took his seat as another warrior stood up. "Thank you, Warrior Leader. I stand against having a human among us. Humans are slow, weak, and live by greed. He will burden us, and we know from the past he will try to change how we live. Before we even knew him, he had pulled our warriors out into the forest without consent of Warrior Leader Sayn or Elder Misn. And now, he hides what he had brought with him and will not allow the keepers to see it. If he cannot trust us, we cannot trust him. If he thinks he is better than us, then he deserves not to be here longer than it takes for us to heal his wounds. He should be taken back to the human tribe."
The warrior took his seat, glaring at Michael before looking over to Sayn. The Warrior Leader nodded, then stood up.
"First argument made. Bein sits. Rise Mila, wanting human." He motioned for Mila to rise, taking his seat as she did.
"Thank you, Warrior Leader. I cannot speak for Michael's speed, but I do know that he is strong. By himself, he had slain a veteran Ra'zorlich warrior while he was badly wounded in the leg. Despite the immense pain of his injury, he had gone zetrans without healing and still shows no sign of illness."
"Damn right," Michael muttered as Mila continued.
"He is a great warrior where he comes from, and he is not a man of greed. We needed our warriors to claim destructive weapons brought with him from his lands. Weapons that are deadlier than anything we can even dream of. I am sure when Michael recovers, he will show us what he has brought. If he stays, we may be able to make better arrangements with Atzla humans. In time, Michael will prove to us that he will not be a burden, but a powerful friend."
Mila returned to her seat, Sayn giving her a respectful nod and looking over to Michael. "Human, stand."
Bracing against his crutch, Michael came to his feet and shifted his weight around, uneasy with the amount of eyes focused up him. He cycled his lungs, wet his lips, and cleared his throat. At first he looked directly at Bein, locking eyes with the warrior as he started. "I'm not Nekonian, I'm not from Atzla. Hell, I'm not even from Raska. But what I am is a soldier, well-trained and well-practiced in the art of war. Where I come from, my warrior's rank is 'Sergeant', something like a pack leader. I'm the one who takes the orders and gets them done. When the bullets or arrows start flying, I make sure that the only people getting killed are my enemy. I make sure that nothing stands to threaten what I love. And what I love is the beauty of this place. Atzla. My tribe. My mate. I would die for everything, and everyone, in this village."
He turned to the other judges, stiffening up on his crutch, "I would give my life for this place because never before have I been given the chance to live the life I want. To live outside civilization and away from the greedy bastards of society; to spend my days hunting, fishing, laying in the meadow and watching the clouds blow by. And..."
He glanced down at Mila, smiling at her before looking back at the counsel before him, "To have someone to share it with, everything I ever wanted. I wouldn't dare try to change anything about this place because everything is perfect as it is. If anything needed to be changed, it would be me. To fit in with my new tribe, to do my part and help in every way I can. Until the last ounce of life fades from my body, don't doubt for a minute that I would give you anything less than my best."
Michael dropped down into his chair feeling the air lighten up a bit around him. Even Sayn seemed to be in his favour at the moment as he rose up before the counsel. "Judges, speak with your groups."
The Warrior Leader circled around the table, coming to the male Nekos in the heavy leather armed with swords and stone axes. Quietly amongst themselves, the different groups at the table spoke of the decision to be made. Michael held firmly onto Mila's hand, not wanting to let her go even for a second. Nobody in the room was speaking English anymore, and that made him that more anxious.
Several minutes passed before one by one, the groups went silent. Finished speaking with his warriors, Sayn took his place at the end of the table.
"Have all a decision?" he asked.
The three other judges rose from their seats, two female and one male, all significantly older than those around them. One female dressed in heavy wool wraps cleared her throat.
"The Trackers stand against keeping the human. We do not want to lose one of our own for years while she mothers a litter of half-breeds."
"Lady Akal has spoken. Huntmaster Hail, your words?" Sayn inquired.
A slim, nimble-looking Neko male straightened out his back, fixing his leather jerkin as he declared, "The Hunters stand against. We wish not a foreign mouth to tell us how to hunt or what to hunt, while ordering us to feed it only what food it desires."
"Huntmaster Hail has spoken. Lady Teak, your words?"
The youngest of the judges sitting at the table and perhaps the only Neko in the village wearing any form of jewelry, a Lady Teak stood up, fixing the golden necklace hanging over her blue linen dress. Her bright orange eyes narrowed upon Michael as she gave him a sly grin. Something about her didn't sit right in the Sergeant's stomach, but at that moment, his fate was in her hands. "The merchants have decided that we are unanimously... for the human. He may help with matters of trade and dealing with human greed, and be of use in future deals."
"Lady Teak has spoken," Sayn declared, leaning in over the table. "I shall allow Bein to speak for warriors."
Bein and the other men, the crowd who had presented the argument against Michael, eyed their leader for a moment before looking over to the human. The Sergeant made direct eye contact with the warriors, keeping his chin up as they stared intently at him. At this decisive time, he couldn't appear to back down for any reason. The cards were on the table, his argument had been made. He had to back it up and try to help these warriors see through the forest and spot the trees.
Bein slowly rose from his seat, taking an extra moment to trade glares with Michael. The Sergeant gave the Neko a single nod.
"We, as the Warriors, revoke our decision; our stance is now in favor of the human. He has powers of war, he can kill a Ra'zorlich while wounded, and he says that he will defend our village with the weapons of his world. It may give us the edge we need against the threats from the Ra'zorlichs and bandits."
There were a lot of surprised looks from the hunters and trackers, neither expected that from the man who argued against the human.
This left the decision up to the tribe's eldest, the old Neko sitting half-asleep in his chair. His head slowly rose, looking around at the patient eyes set on him in earnest. Sighing, the elder turned to Mila. His voice was wheezy, his lungs straining to push air through his voice box as he asked, "Child, do you wish for this man as a mate?"
"Yes, elder," Mila answered.
"Is it love?"
She smiled, her hand tightening up on Michaels hand. "Yes, elder."
He nodded weakly, then turned to Michael. "Is it true love you have?"
Though initially shocked at the elder's sudden vocalization, the Sergeant quickly nodded and answered, "As strong as I've ever felt it."
The elder shut his eyes, taking deep breaths before turning to the counsel. "Then the human... stays... If he can prove himself tonight..."
The shadow of night overcame the last rays of the sunlight as the red orb was swallowed by the tree tops in the west. Stars lit up in darkening sky like sparkling dust bringing life to the blackness above. Among these effervescent dots sat a light blue moon, casting its reflected light down upon the breadth of Atzla forest.
Down in the near-endless sea of trees, two bodies moved swiftly between the rows of underbrush. Through the thicket ahead of them lay the orange glow of torches mounted atop of a primitive log wall. Panting, sweating, smiling, Private Galen Martin clutched the hand of his elven companion, Celia, as she guided him forward toward the firelight.
After a day's travel through heavy forest and a tango with Atzla's unique wildlife, they had finally arrived at their destination. Upon approach, the golden aura from Celia's body died down momentarily so she and Galen could hide in the brush line edging a heavily deforested area.
In the middle of the clearing, some forty yards across a broad field of tree stumps, stood a wall of wooden poles several feet high. Behind this fortification stood an entire village of tents and wooden shacks. Steady trails of smoke rose from the village center and from the chimneys of several homes, the sparse, black wisps arcing in a steady gust of wind.
Directly across the clear-cut field from Galen and Celia, there was an opening in the village walls, a full entrance into the settlement lit on either side by a pair of iron braziers. Two large, Nekonian warriors stood guard at the entrance, their thinly furred bodies covered by hard leather jerkins and knee-length, buckskin shorts.
Squinting, Galen spotted the stone axes hanging at their sides and bows sitting idle in their hands. Other than the braziers, there were no signs of any metal weapons, armors, or trinkets—something the Private noted for later. Both warriors kept watch over their village, but not as one would in a time of war. The two Nekonians appeared to be quite relaxed and very talkative, keeping up a lively conversation in their own tongue with little concern about any sort of threat.
"So this is the Willher village?" Galen asked in elvish.
"It is. It's grown a bit since the troll attacked it a few winters back, but this is them."
"Do you know much about them?"
"Very much. I studied them a lot through the cauldron after they had been attacked. I was actually looking for one of them when I found you. What do you wish to know?"
Galen rolled his eyes for a moment, blushing a bit even though it was her that admitted she sought them out for sexual reasons. "Give me a summary."
"They are a very peaceful tribe, with good trade with all others but the Ra'zorlichs. They have many proud warriors who live for battle, but really specialize in medicines and healing. They have many healers that go out around to forest to give aid to any who need it, and also patrol the Ra'zorlich borders for any sign that they might expand their territory or start raiding outside their lands. And they have sheep."
"Sheep?" Galen repeated.
"Yes. There's a large clearing to the west that's fenced off and heavily guarded by the Willhers. They have many sheep and deer they keep for milk, meat, and wool to trade with other tribes."
"When will you tell me who this friend of yours and the Neko woman is?"
"Soon. I would rather you meet them first before I go talking behind their backs."
Celia's pointed ears drooped slightly as she nodded respectfully and looked back toward the village guards. Her clouded white eyes scanned over the pair of feline men as she tried to connect with her gut feelings, to allow her premonitions give her hints on whether they were dangerous or not. A shift in Galen's presence snapped her from that particular train of thought.
Slightly frustrated with herself, Celia began the mental task of crushing down those urges to analyze and judge the men in her sight. She had to get rid of them. Done were the days of her going out searching for the next lover of the tree elves. This was a new time in her life, to go out into the world to follow her own will and her own ambitions. To enjoy both Galen, and the incredibly long life with which her species was blessed.
With a relaxed grin, she rested her cheek against the eagle patch on Galen's shoulder, keeping it there as he pulled a small, hand-sized object from his pack. It was an object Celia recognized from visions provided to her by Tanza's cauldron. A pair of metal tubes bonded side-by-side with glass on either end: something humans used to view distances farther than what their eyes see could on their own.
A slight groan suddenly erupted from Galen's weapon, the living moss covering the body yearning for attention.
"Oh, shush you," Galen whispered as he watched the village guards through his palm-sized binoculars.
Celia noticed he had little anxiety about the settlement ahead, whereas she could not put it from her mind. The elf had never entered any form of civilization other than her own village. Never before had she been surrounded by another race without several of her sisters there to protect her and even then that encounter had been in a forest camp. The idea of entering a fortified village frightened her. Were it not for the man at her side, she would've never come within a walking zetra of any tribe's home...
Screaming mentally at herself, Celia forced the thoughts of being without her sisters from her conscious mind. This fear pumping through her veins, of being out in the world without their support, needed to be quelled or she would not last. Galen, or no Galen.
She had her knowledge of nature, she had her unity with the Atzla forest, and she had him. With this revived confidence warming her chest, Celia nestled into her love's uniform and waited as he continued to watch the village entrance through his spy piece.
"I don't think the guards are there to keep people out. They look more like watchmen keeping out the riffraff than anything else. So long as we don't approach too fast and keep from looking hostile, I'm sure they won't mind us. Come on, let's go."
"What's riffraff?" Celia asked as he grabbed his rifle.
A thoughtful look came about his face as he pulled her from their hiding place. The white loin cloth hanging between her legs caught momentarily on a bush, causing the elf to stumble and yank on the article to pull it free.
"Riffraff is a word we use where I come from... means something like unwanted persons," Galen answered as the guards noticed their emerging from the tree line. "And it's not something we want to appear to be."
When she refocused on the area ahead, the elf felt as if her heart was pierced by a thousand thin needles. There were hundreds of tree-stumps all around the clearing that looked as though they had been hacked down with dull axes. Not a slow process, but done over the course of several hours or even a day for each tree. It was clear to Celia that these humble deciduous beings had suffered much in their felling, and their mutilated bases continued to do so.
In a low voice, Celia mumbled a few words to bring the toes of her boots to a glow. Stepping over the remains of the fallen trees caused tiny branches full with leaves to sprout up silently from the center of the stumps the second her foot pulled away. She glanced back at these new sprites, smiling gracefully at the trees' sudden rebirth.
Botanical generation was a spell any magical creature could learn, she just knew the tricks.
The friendly conversation between the two Willher guards came to an end as one them began to yell at Galen in Nekonian. The other guard, decided to back off a bit and drift a bit to the left of his partner. It was clear that they meant business as he pulled an arrow from the quiver on his back and notched it onto drawstring of his bow.
Unconsciously Galen's hand drifted to the holster on his hip and gripped the leather strap. The snap popped open, releasing its hold on the pistol. As there was no way he could bring his rifle around in time before that Neko could unleash his arrow, the soldier remained ready to draw his .45 at any moment. It was their only hope if they decided they wanted him dead.
"You speak human?" Galen yelled out as he and Celia approached the guards.
The two were a good twenty yards from the gate when the forward guard yelled out, "I speak your tongue, human. Name you and her who follow you."
"I'm Galen Martin, this is Celia. We're just lookin' for our friends, maybe ya know them? One's name is Mila, she from your village, and the other is Michael P-"
"Are you the human we are expecting?" The Nekonian interrupted, his partner lowering his bow.
A tense breath cleared Galen's lungs as their weapons lowered and returned to their sheaths or quivers. Celia's tight grasp on his arm had loosened off as well, her aura returning to its normal brightness. A soft click sounded from his holster to confirm the snap was back in place.
Both the guards took a much friendlier stance, their hard faces softening as Galen freely approached them. When he came close enough, one of the guards hunched down to bring his head to level with Galen's, a critical eye looking the soldier up and down.
"We are... sorry for threats. We watch for Ra'zorlichs. You warrior who fell the troll?"
A small smile crossed Galen's face as he stood dumbstruck for a moment. Both guards stared quizzically at him, waiting for an answer. Opening his mouth to speak and then shutting it again, Galen raised index one finger to the guard to signal him to wait a moment as he whispered in Celia's ear.