Journey of the Warrior Ch. 03byRoadbug©
The Heroes Return
This story is a work of fiction. All resemblance to people or places is purely coincidence.
Thanks to DesertPirate for his assistance.
As we sat around the fire, I watched Mellany, Eldranna, and Shardinelle hugging the girl. I hadn't wanted them with me, and I was still mad about the way they and their goddess had forced me to accept them, but now I was beginning to realize that I did want them with me.
I've lived a solitary life since I came to this strange land. I had few friends and no home to call my own. Now I had both if I wanted them. I had people who were willing to claim me as kin and share their lives with me.
As I sat there watching, that irritating green glow came back again. The Lady of the Forest was returning. Goddess or not, this was getting annoying.
The glow brightened to where all my companions could see it. The elves all rose to one knee and bowed their heads. The young girl looked around in fear so I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder and told her that a friend was visiting.
She nodded and looked calmer, so I stood and faced the glow. She wasn't my goddess so I wasn't about to kneel to her or bow. She'd helped trap me with the three elven girls and I was angry about it. I thought that if she wanted respect after that, she could earn it.
As I watched, the glow formed into the woman. She was an outline at first, then became a solid mass that took on shape and definition. When she was fully formed she looked at me and smiled.
"I see you are still angry with me, Hawk the Hunter," she said. I don't blame you but there is a reason for all of this."
She stepped forward to the young girl and laid a hand on her shoulder and said, "I know of your loss, young one. I am sorry that I couldn't help you here in my forest, but I am not allowed to interfere in such matters. I share your sorrow."
Releasing her shoulder, she turned back to me and said, "I see that even in your anger you've accepted all your companions and picked up two more."
The elf we'd rescued looked up at her and said, "Lady, I owe these people for my freedom. Like the child, my family is now gone and I have no home to return to. I ask your blessing and I ask Lord Hawk if I might join with him and his other brave companions."
I looked at her and asked her if she really wanted this.
She said, "I have nowhere to go now. I have no close kin and my home was destroyed by the bandits four days ago.
I would return and bury my kin, but after that I have nothing."
I looked at the goddess and said, "It's her choice. It's my choice to accept her or not. I don't want any interference from the gods."
The Lady laughed and said, "I didn't interfere in the first place. I answered a call and named the price as I'm required to do. The price was paid and I did as I had been asked by two of my children. I would have done this with no payment required but as I have already told you, even the gods have laws and I was required to do the deed."
I nodded and said, "I understand. I don't like it, but I understand. I will allow all gathered here to come with me but not without certain things understood up front."
"What might those be?" asked the Lady.
"We travel as equals is first," I said. "Second is that all must agree to anyone joining us. Third is that if any wish to leave they are free to do so with no repercussions from you or the rest of the gods."
"Agreed," said the Lady. "I will help you as I may for what you have done for my people, but only when asked and without tying someone else to you as you already said. I must sometimes ask a price but it is up to you if you pay it."
"Very well," I said. "I can live with that."
"I now owe you a debt for cleansing my forest of these trespassers," the Lady said. "I can't interfere with the actions of mortals but I do appreciate them being removed from my home."
She reached out and her hand disappeared into a black void for a moment and when she pulled it back she held a staff and a sword.
"These are for you," she informed me. "The sword is an ancient weapon of the elves from before they first came to this world and the staff is a symbol of my gratitude. Take them and use them well."
I was tempted to refuse, but reconsidered. I had left the sword that Dranco had given me when I left the castle. My staff was a good weapon and I was well familiar with it but thinking about the young girl I decided to give it to her and teach her how to use it. She was too small to wield a sword well at least for now, but she looked strong.
With a staff, the length of your arms is less important than it is with using blades. What is needed are strong arms and wrists. Most of staff work is from strength as with a sword, but with a staff you need both hands. Long arms aren't needed with the stile I use since I keep my upper arms close to me most of the time.
Having decided, I reached out and took the weapons saying, "Very well. I'll accept your gifts as long as there is no price or requirement for them."
"They are in payment for a service you have done for me," the Lady said. "I don't have ulterior motives in giving them to you. They do have special powers, though. I will tell you what I may if you wish."
I nodded and she continued, "The sword has ancient spells on it that are even older than me. It will warn you of traps or ambushes for one. It cannot be detected as magical by any mage now living. It will never break or need sharpening. Finally, no one but you my wield it or even lift it unless you grant them leave."
I thought about that for a moment and looking at the young girl I said, "I have a job for you youngster. First I ask your name, though."
She looked at me and said, "Fianna, my name is Fianna."
I nodded and said, "Fianna my task for you is simple. I need someone to carry my sword for me."
Her eyes got so large I thought they were ready to pop out of her head. She didn't say anything, but nodded her head and held out her hands. I placed the sword in her hands and said, "I also have a new name for you. Fianna Sword Barer. Carry it for me and have it ready for me at need."
Fianna nodded her head so hard I thought she'd give herself a whiplash. She hugged the sword to her chest and it started to glow a bright blue light. It surrounded her for a moment then faded away.
Even the Lady was surprised at this. She said, "I think the sword has accepted her and will protect her. Not even the person who carries it has ever had that response before."
I said, "Good. At least I'll get some benefit from knowing you. Let it protect her as needed since I don't know much about swords or their usage.
The Lady smiled and said, "I see you really are still angry with me. Well, that's your choice. You aren't one of my followers and aren't bound by my laws."
Pointing to the staff, she continued her explanation of the weapons. "This staff is my symbol. Those who know me and follow my ways will recognize it. It will also protect you from magical attacks and most poisons. As a weapon, it cannot be broken nor burnt. Even the great evil powers of this land can't destroy it or harm you if you hold it."
I nodded again and handed the staff to Fianna and said to her, "Hold this too for me."
She smiled at me and laid the staff on her lap.
I smiled back and turned to the goddess and asked her, "Can you give any information to us?"
"That depends on what you want to know, Hawk," she said.
"I wish to know if this was the bandit band we set out to find or if it's a different group," I said.
"That I can freely tell you," said the Lady. "This is the same band that you set out to find. All of them were here and your task is complete."
"Thank you," I said. "I had wondered as it seemed to convenient for them to be so close to the castle."
The Lady nodded and said, "They moved here five days ago as the road they were preying on grew less and less traveled."
"Very well," I said. "We'll take the bodies of the dead and the prisoners back to Lord Artemus to judge as these are his lands. After that, I'm headed north. I want to see a friend there."
The Lady nodded and said, "Be blessed and travel freely through my lands." With that, she faded away as she had done in the past.
I sat back down next to Fianna and stared at the fire for a moment then said, "All of you joined me freely. I don't know why some of you did, but be welcome to my fire."
The elves surrounding the fire had sat back down after the Lady had vanished. Nobody said anything for awhile, and then the elf we'd rescued asked, "My Lord, may I join with you too? I wish to care for my kin first but I really would like to join this band."
I asked the others, "Does anyone have any arguments? All must agree to this before I accept."
Deliand said, "It is my choice to say yes, she may join with us."
After him, the others all agreed. The elf in question stood and walked over to where I was sitting and knelt before me and handed me her sword. She said, "My name is Bran. I have no family and only this sword to call my own. I will follow you where ever you may go."
I took the sword and stood. Drawing it, I checked the blade and balance. It wasn't much of a sword but it would do until I had a chance to get a better one for her.
Sheathing the sword, I handed it back to her and said, "Since all agree, I accept you as one of my companions. You may travel with us for as long as you want and you may leave when ever you wish. Travel with us freely."
I lifted her head and looked into her eyes, saying, "Never bow to me again. You are an equal in this group. I only ask that you obey my commands in battle and help as needed in camp and as we travel. I ask the same from all my companions. Stay with us for as long as you wish."
She nodded and standing, went back to her place by the fire. The others each stood and went to her, welcoming her as a sister.
I looked around the fire for a bit, observing each of my companions, finally letting my eyes rest on Bran. I said to her, "I have a task for you if you will accept, Bran."
She said, "You have but to ask."
"I want you to help Shardinelle with the girl. Teach her and protect her for me please."
Bran looked at the girl and smiling, she said," I will stand by her and protect the child with my life."
I thanked her and looked at Shardinelle and asked, "Will you also accept this task?"
Shardinelle said, "I already have. She is my sister now and I will protect her with my life if need be. I will also teach her as much as I can."
I nodded to her and asked Fianna, "Is this all right with you?"
She said, "I thought you would protect me."
I said, "I will with my life. I swore it and meant it. Daughter, as long as I live I will do my best by you."
Fianna gasped and exclaimed, "Daughter! You called me Daughter! Why?
"Because, I too have no close kin. I lost my home and my family five years ago. The local lord adopted me into his family, but I have no others. Do you wish to be my daughter?"
The next thing I new, I was hit by a sobbing mass. I held her and stroked her hair as she cried.
Deliand smiled at me and said, "I see you have given the child a problem. You said we share equally, so I guess her name would now be Fianna Sword Barer, Daughter of Hawks Companions."
I looked at him and said, "I see you have an evil mind to put the burden of such a name on such a small child. Maybe I should name you servant to Fianna so that you can help her carry the load."
Deliand grasped his chest over his heart and said, "You wound me brother. Such a foul blow you strike."
Every body laughed at that, even Fianna who had stopped crying. She still clung to me like a monkey, though.
I pushed her head back and said to her, "I won't run away or disappear. You can let loose now."
She let me go and I got up and made my bed up away from the fire. Fianna followed me and watched silently.
When I had finished, I asked her if she had any blankets. She said no so I went to the pack horses that my companions had brought with her.
I found three extra blankets and took them over to where I had made my bed and showed her how to clear a place and to line the ground with dry leaves and boughs from the pine trees around us. That done, I bid her good night.
As she went to bed, I walked back over to the fire and told the others to set watch however they wanted. I would take last as I liked to sit in the forest and watch it wake up with the coming of day.
They agreed and I went back to my bed. I saw that Fianna had moved hers closer to mine and was now asleep. She cradled the sword and the staff in her arms as she slept.
I quietly got into my bed and went to sleep.
When I was awakened the next morning for my turn on watch, I had a warm bundle snuggled up on my right side where Fianna had her bed. I looked down at the head beside me and saw that she'd moved her bed next to mine and was now curled up on her side and snuggled up against me. She still had that sword and the staff wrapped in her arms too.
I woke her up and told her that it was our turn on guard. She nodded without arguing and sat up. I sat up and put on my shirt and boots while she got ready.
While we were getting ready, I asked her how old she was. She said, "I'm 13 summers now. I nodded. She was even younger than I'd thought.
We got up and went over to the fire to get some tea. It was getting old and bitter, but was strong enough to wake a hibernating bear.
After we finished, I went to the guard post I was to take over and relieved the guard on duty. He went back to his bed to get what sleep he could before we broke camp.
Fianna and I sat and listened to the forest. I quietly talked to her while Simon sat next to me. I told her what made a particular type of sound and pointed to where we could see a bit of sky slowly starting to glow with the coming of dawn.
I had always liked this time of day. I like to watch the day time animals wake and the night ones head for their homes. I'd always been fascinated by this. It's like a mass changing of the guard. The world can be an interesting place if you just watch, and this was the best time.
Fianna said little and mostly listened to what I told her. She just sat there and held my new weapons while I talked. I had never had a chance to talk to someone like this. Very few people of any race, including the elves, were willing to just sit and watch the world wake up and now I had this child to tell. I enjoyed that.
I don't remember what I lost when I came to this world, but I don't think I left a wife or children behind. I think this was the first time I'd ever had a chance to teach someone about the wonders of watching the coming of a new day. If nothing else, whether she realized it or not, Fianna had given me a great gift.
When the sun had risen enough to see clearly, the camp started to wake up. I told Fianna to leave the sword with me and go get us both some breakfast when the others started eating. She was back quickly with two plates and more tea.
We ate as the others finished and started packing for the trip back to the castle. When they finished, I went over to my mare and climbed up. I held my hand down for Fianna and let her use the stirrup. Before she could mount, though, Eldranna came up leading the stallion that Artemus had given me.
I just shrugged my shoulders at her and dismounted again.
I asked Fianna if she could ride and she said that she'd learned while traveling with her uncle.
Since she could, I picked her up and put her in the saddle of my mare and told her to be gentle with her horse.
Fianna looked at me in shock and asked, "My horse?"
I said, "I can't ride two. Your my daughter and I can't have you walking and trying to keep up with elven bred horses, so I guess you'll just have to keep her."
I swear her face almost broke, she smiled so wide.
"What's her name?" she asked.
I said, "I never really named her and the people I got her form never told me, so I guess you'll just have to figure something out."
She leaned over so far I thought she was going to fall and grabbed my arm. She pulled me closer and hugged me, saying," Thank you father. I never had such a gift as this or the dagger from Shardinelle."
I said, "Well you had better get used to it. I think the others have decided that your the daughter of us all and now they're going to compete to see who can give you the greatest gift."
Eldranna heard that and snorted. I looked at her and raised my right eyebrow and frowned. That did it. She started laughing so hard she dropped the reins of my horse and almost fell off of hers.
It was worth making faces to get that out of her. I'd know her for five years and had never seen her laugh like that.
I turned back to Fianna and said, "Stay in the middle of the group. If there's any trouble that's where you'll be safest."
She said, "But I belong with you. I'm your sword barer."
I said, "I'll have my sword with me for now. I want you where your safe. You aren't ready to fight. Your job is to carry my sword when I don't need it. For now, I want you in the middle so that we can protect the daughter of Hawks companions. Remember. The most valuable thing is the best guarded and I have nothing worth more than you."
She smiled when I told her that and agreed to ride where I wanted her. Right now, she was the most valuable person in my party. I knew that all of my companions would protect her as best as they could.
I mounted my horse and looked at Eldranna. "You done yet?" I asked her.
She was still laughing, but seemed to be under control now and I looked around.
The warriors that Artemus had sent with my group had broken camp also. They had all the tents and goods from the bandits packed and were ready to go. My people were also ready to leave so I had Shardinelle lead us out with Deliand behind her. I wanted her to get the experience but had the most experienced man that I knew of behind her.
We were a lot slower going back with the heavily loaded pack animals than I was getting here in the first place. I was glad that I'd camped where I had when I left the castle. If I'd gone on much further I would have tripped over the bandits and been fighting not just 9 like yesterday morning, but the other 36 as well. I'm good, but not that good.
It took us most of the day to get back to the castle. During that time, I rotated the lead and took it myself twice. I wanted to make sure that each took one of the two most dangerous places in line. The first two to be attacked in an ambush are the first and last, usually. At least that's how I would do it.
We found the place where the bandits had attacked their last victims yesterday and buried the dead. After that, we continued to the castle. We got there just before dark
When we rode through the village, the residents stood along the road and bowed as we passed. I remember that the people to the south had done the same when I returned after killing that pack of dire wolves. They were showing their respect to us for the job we'd done, I think.
We arrived at the castle and found Lord Artemus and his son Dranco waiting at the gate with the guards lined up waiting for us.
We rode in to the court yard and I dismounted. I walked over to Artemus and said, "As I promised, the bandit threat is ended. We rescued a few women who'd been captured and we took 3 prisoners."
I walked back to Fianna and helped her down and took her over to Artemus. I introduced her to him as my daughter.
He looked at me in surprise then bowed deeply to Fianna and said, "My name is Artemus, daughter of my brother. Be free with my name and be always welcome to my home."
Fianna gasped in shock. I wasn't expecting such a greeting, but Fianna looked like she was ready to faint.