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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Remains - Owen and Dilora


Winter Mist
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~Owen~

 

The early morning sun had just crept over the forest around the Stedding. An ethereal quiet hung over the forest, it was the time when the nocturnal predators had found a safe place to sleep, and the day time predators had not yet woken up. Owen loved this time of the day when anything seemed possible, a hope and confidence filling him as he worked through his loosening up exercises before starting his morning run. This morning he felt the need to push himself further, to truly exorcise the demons that plagued him since the return. As Owen jogged over to the place all the Wolfkin met at who took part in the early morning run, Owen offered greetings to those who were there ahead of him. Everyone knew the search for Iris had not been a success, but only those who had been on the search knew the full extent of the events in that light blasted village.

 

A new dawn for a new hope

 

These words spun around in Owen’s mind, and he did not truly understand why. The journey back had provided a certain amount of time for him to come to terms with the loss of his mate, but not enough time would ever pass for him to truly get over that loss. There had been much speculation on the nature of relationships within the Wolfkin. Were they like the Wolves in that sense, and mated for life, or where they still like the humans they had been and could take as many partners as they wanted. There had never been a consensus on this matter, like many of the topics that involved anything to do with their lives now. There always seemed to be more questions than answers and this was a puzzle and a concern to many of the Wolfkin.

 

Once the morning run was over, Owen returned to his home, meeting up with his wolf companion on the way. Ice was fully grown now, and had turned out to be one of the largest wolves anyone could remember seeing, she was also one of the most protective wolves in the Stedding. Owen put this down to the bond they had between them. He had rescued her when her mother had been killed and Ice was only a few weeks old. As they finished the walk to Owen’s home, they talked about recent events, and Ice reminded Owen that in her opinion he had been foolish to the extreme to leave her behind when he had gone in search of Iris. Owen tuned the sound of Ice’s voice out, when she was in her mother protector phase, Owen found her a little too earnest. Quickly Owen scrambled up the tree he had built his house in, Ice however choose to stay on the ground, and started to wash herself, content to wait for Owen and the two-leg to come down.

 

Once Owen had climbed up the tree he arrived at a trap door that led on to the balcony running around his home. The solitude here was the main reason he had built his home so far away from the main part of the Stedding. The only other Wolfkin who had ever built their home so far from the center of the Stedding had been Wolflover, and her home had been deserted for a few years now.

 

Once through the trap door, Owen went into the main room of his house and turned for he kitchen. He tried to make as little noise as possible as he did not want to wake Dilora just yet. She had been exhausted when they had reached the Stedding the day before, and no doubt would sleep late. Owen did not know how long she would stay with the Wolfkin, or with him, but for now he was content to just have the chance to make amends with her. She had been a great help with their recent problems, and Owen had not reacted well to her.

 

Leaving the kitchen, a mug of tea in one hand, a small loaf of bread and cheese in the other, Owen went out onto the balcony and say down in his favourite chair to enjoy his breakfast. Before he could start to eat though, Ice told him she wanted to come and join him, so Owen got the sling from where it was kept and attached it to a long rope which the threw over the railing around the balcony. He waited until it had hit the ground then started to pull it back up, slightly. When the sling was partially raised off the ground Ice stepped into it and waited for the journey to begin. She had done this plenty of times since Owen and Iris had lived here, but she was not at all comfortable about it. Eventually Owen had hoisted her up to the balcony and through the trap door. Removing the sling Owen returned to his seat and continued with his breakfast, Ice by his side, and this was how a blurry eyed Dilora found them some time later.

 

“Good morning Dilora, I hope you had a pleasant rest?”

 

Ice turned her head towards Dilora and regarded her with pale blue eyes, almost as if she thought Dilora should greet her.

 

~Dilora~

 

Eyes blurred with mist and memories, Dilora sat upright in her bed.  Her arms did not bang into the familiar wall of her wagon, instead they touched open space and more of the mattress, which confused her but she couldn’t for the life of her think why.  Sunlight too advanced to be the early morning filtered through the window to shine on her face.  A hand went to her eyes to rub the sleep away from them, and as though a veil had been lifted, Dilora remembered where she was.

 

I’m with the wolf-folk.  I’m right in the middle of their den. 

 

She did not feel a trace of worry: Dilora had come through the events of the previous day or so and retained her composure for the most part, and even though she felt wary at her situation and ashamed for being taken so for a fool, she stretched languorously and told herself to stop being foolish.  The golden-eyed chap had said he was going to make amends, and she believed him.  He’d just better do a good job with her wagon or she would be chasing angry villagers with pitchforks from here to the Fingers of the Dragon. 

 

Dilora chided herself for such thoughts.  Whatever had happened, he’d had his reasons for doing what he had done.  It was the accusing stares of his companions that had been the hardest to bear, and the journey to this place had been rather tense.  Still, as sunlight chased away the shadows of the night before, today was a new day, and Dilora intended to make the most of this.  This was, Dilora reflected, an opportunity not many others would have had.  Her mind was open to new things and new experiences, and this proved to be one of the most memorable in a long time.  She swung her legs over the side of the bed and touched her bare feet down on the floor, wondering where they were. 

 

Still rubbing her eyes, she opened the door to the room she was in to find the man she had saved and then endangered seated in a chair opposite her.  On the floor near him was a wolf, whose magnificent piercing blue eyes were staring at her.  Dilora felt momentary nerves in the pit of her stomach and looked to the man for reassurance.

 

“I have to say I have not had such a restful night’s sleep in a long time, thank you for asking.  I don’t remember my head hitting the pillow and I had no dreams.  Somehow though, this morning I feel very rested and well.”  She saw him nod, and then something occurred to Dilora.  “How long have I been asleep, and where am I?  More importantly, how are you feeling now?”

 

~Owen~

 

Owen smiled at Dilora’s words, Iris had said much the same thing the first night they had spent together here, although then there had been far more entertaining things to do than sleep. “I do believe it is the swaying of the tree, or just the isolation here. I purposely built this place away from the Stedding to get some peace”. Owen was not going to reveal all the reasons why he had built the house here, some of them were just to personnel to reveal to someone he hardly knew. “As to how long you have been asleep? It is now midmorning, so I would say you have had at lest ten hours, obviously the stress of the last couple of weeks has caught up with you. As to how I am feeling, I will manage for now, but the loss is still to recent, and if I dwell on it to much I can feel the despair nibbling away at my mind.” It was not Dilora’s fault she had asked that question, no two-leg would ever know what it was like for two Wolfkin to mate.

 

Owen called Dilora over and indicated the chair opposite him. When she sat down there was a sudden surge of anger inside of him, he had never realised just how protective of ‘Ris he still was and to see a stranger sitting in her chair was stranger to say the least. “If you are hungry then I have some porridge on the stove and can quickly rustle up some toast as well. I still have some preserves left to go with the toast, and I believe we have some salt and sugar, I usually don’t add anything to my porridge, but I know others like to.”

 

Although Owen was not the cook ‘Ris had been, he still found it hard to think of her in the past tense, he could at least feed people without them becoming ill. “After you have eaten you can accompany me to the archery range, or go about your own business. You are free to come and go, as you like while you are here, but I would ask that you do not leave the Stedding on your own. We have Rangers patrolling the Stedding perimeter, and although they are aware of who you are and what you have done for us, we would prefer it if you told us you wanted to leave.” Seeing the concerned look on her face Owen tried to reassure Dilora. “This place has been kept secret for more years than I can remember, and it has to stay that way, I hope you will understand?”

 

Once she understood Owen’s reasoning the cloud of uncertainty receded and she told Owen that breakfast sounded wonderful. Owen went into the kitchen and soon returned with her bowl of porridge and more tea. “You get started on that, and I will see to the toast.”

 

It did not take Owen long to prepare the toast, and soon he returned with a plate piled high with toast. Sitting opposite Dilora, Owen could not help but stare at her, it was just so strange seeing someone other than ‘Ris in that chair.

 

~Dilora~

 

She set to the porridge as if she’d not seen food for a week, drizzling a little honey on both the breakfast and into her tea.  Dilora had a sweet tooth.  She enthused about it’s taste and thanked her host fulsomely for providing such a meal.  On the road she might not have eaten in such comfort, barely taking time to fry up a couple of pieces of bacon and sticking it between a couple of slices of bread.  Her belly becoming full and contented, Dilora sat back in the chair and considered her host again.  She still regarded him with suspicion but the forgiving part of her nature told her to stop being silly, and she smiled.

 

Pretty soon she found herself scraping the spoon around the bottom of the bowl to make sure she’d got all the porridge out, and Owen came back then bearing a plate of toast and he sat down across the table from her.  If he looked oddly at her, it was probably the seclusion.  Then she remembered the reason for their encounter in the first place, and Dilora looked around as if seeing the slight feminine touches here and there for the first time.

 

She lived here too, and I’m likely treading on his memories…

 

She chewed and swallowed the remaining piece of toast in her hand and then dusted the crumbs off her fingers onto the plate in front of her.  Suddenly her appetite wasn’t as great as she had imagined it would be, but that was likely rushing her food done that.  It also made Dilora feel unimaginably lonely, realising that she did not share her life with anyone and she could not even empathise with the man.

 

My life is the road.  Is there more than this? 

 

Dilora shook her head to clear the sadness that overtook her.  Pushing her plate away from her, she rose and looked at Owen, once more expressing her thanks for the food.  As soon as she had made herself a bit more presentable, wanting very much the services of hairbrush and a wash, she vowed to go to the archery ground with him. 

 

Washed and ready, Dilora flexed her fingers as she walked out to meet Owen once more.

 

“I’m ready to go,” she told him, and started walking towards the door.  Her hand turned the handle and Dilora stopped suddenly, looking out on trees and realised one foot was held over precarious nothingness or more precisely, a long drop to the ground below.  They were in a tree?  She had to applaud the man’s ingenuity for “getting away from it all” and brought her foot down to rest firmly beside the other one, and took a step back to be on the safe side.  There were still peddling adventures to be had yet!  Dilora turned to look at Owen who, in spite of everything seemed to have an amused glint in his eyes.

 

“Ahem, how do I get down?”

 

~Owen~

 

Owen had been intentionally smelling Dilora’s emotions since she awoke. At first there had been confusion, that was soon replaced with hunger, but then that had changed as well and her scent became prickly and confused and if Owen read her right, embarrassment. Although all Wolfkin could use this skill that did not mean they automatically knew what the different emotions meant that they sensed and this was how is was now with Owen. After living with ‘Ris he had come to understand that women were far more emotionally complex than men where, and trying to discern their emotions was akin to walking blindfold through an enemies stronghold. Once Dilora had finished broken her fast, Owen took the crockery back to the kitchen and quickly washed up, leaving them to dry in a small wooden rack, he had made, by the window, the sun would help fry them. Returning to the main room he almost died of shock as he saw Dilora precariously balanced over the hole that allowed them to climb down the tree. Before he could do or say anything she backed away from the hole and turned to face him.

 

“Ahem, how do I get down?”

 

Smiling at the look of consternation on her face Owen considered his options. He could show her the cleverly crafted steps in the trunk, or he could offer to carry her down, a reverse of the trip the night before. “Well, you could climb down, it would be more dignified than the way I brought you up here. But if that is not to your liking, I can carry you again, as long as you promise not to squirm too much.” Owen smiled at her to show he was making fun of her, and hoped that his smile would not be mistaken for something else. ‘Ris had told him that at times his smile reminded her of a hungry wolf about to pounce on it’s pray.

 

“If it is not too much of an imposition I would prefer to climb down, not that I don’t trust you Owen.” Dilora added quickly.

 

“In that case, let me go first and I will guide your feet.” With that Owen disappeared through the hole in the floor and once he was past the first steps told Dilora to lower her leg. Grabbing her foot, Owen placed it on the step and they continued like that until Dilora could see where to put her feet without his help. Once on the ground Owen and Dilora started to walk towards the Ranger’s Barracks, Owen’s bow was there as well as many other weapons. As they walked Owen knew that Ice was keeping pace with them, but had not decided whether to show herself to Dilora or not. By the time they reached the Barracks, Ice was there to meet them, standing in front of the door as if she was on guard.

 

“Dilora I would like you to meet Icewind on a cold dark night, or Ice for short. She is my companion and has been with me since she was a pup. She is not sure about you yet, so if she seems a bit off with you do not be offended. Although I trust you, Ice is very wary around two-legs. She will grow to like you in her own time, I believe.” Oven gave Ice a strange look; as if he had heard her respond to his statement to Dilora and for a short time he did not speak again to Dilora.

 

“I apologise for that Dilora, I was not ignoring you. Come one lets get my bow and a few quivers then we can head out to the archery range. Oh and I took the liberty of bringing your bow and other weapons here. We have a blacksmith here and he has been repairing your weapons, hopefully he will have finished by now.”

 

Once Owen had got his bow, and the pair of them were loaded down with quivers, Owen led Dilora, and Ice, to the Smithy. Even though it was only midmorning, the Smithy was working flat out, and the heat from the furnace made Owen wonder how anyone could stand to be near it for any length of time. Because of this they did not linger long, just long enough to thank the Smith for his work and then beat a hasty retreat back into the sunlight.

 

Soon after that they were at the archery range, and after setting up some targets Owen asked Dilora to shoot first, all the better for him to gauge her proficiency with a her bow.

 

~Dilora~

 

The blacksmith passed her weapons back to Dilora, who thanked him and started to buckle them around herself.  She supposed that you got used to the amount of heat from standing over a fire all day – women that tended hearth would have to, as the men would not often cook unless their wives or daughters were severely ill.  The sweat blossomed on her brow and her fingers itched to wipe it away, but she held back, not wanting to add to the sweat on her palms in case the bowstring slipped too early and she accidentally shot some poor inoffensive tree.

 

It felt good to have her bow back in her hands.  It was the weapon she preferred to carry for hunting and Dilora felt at home with the smooth length in her grip.  The targets had been set up a fair distance away, she judged, and it would take a fair bit of concentration in order for her to hit them with any great accuracy.  With the way her breakfast sat quite heavily in her belly and the sun beating down ferociously, Dilora wondered if she would manage to hit the target at all, but she had to try.  She chose an arrow from her quiver, feeling the quality of the balanced arrow in her fingers before pulling it to her cheek and aiming it at the target.

 

She loosed the quarrel.

 

The arrow flew at the target, relatively straight but it hit one of the outer rings, nowhere near the middle.  Well, it was her first attempt.  She looked over at Owen, and wondered what he was thinking.

 

~Owen~

 

Owen watched as Dilora prepared herself, she seemed to have the basics worked out, but there were many rough edges that they would need to work on. With any luck though she would be a quick study and Owen doubted she would have any trouble with his instructions.

 

“Your stance is good Dilora, but you could raise your elbow more, I think that is what is causing the arrow to fly off to one side like that. “ Owen asked her to take her stance again, and pushed her elbow up until it was at the correct height. “See what I mean now? By letting your elbow droop like you were, it was causing the arrow to fly to the right. If you hold your elbow where it is now you should be able to fire and hit where you are aiming for. Owen motioned for her to try again and this time the arrows flew much straighter.

 

“Now something else for you to consider. When there is a breeze, even as slight as it is now, it will alter the course of the arrow, only slightly maybe, but that could be the difference between a clean kill and a wound. If you are hunting then a clean kill is always preferable, only a very callous person would injure an animal rather than kill it outright. So we now need to allow for the wind, which as I said is not very strong today. So what we will do is start the targets swinging, not too fast, but enough so that they present a whole new challenge for you.”

 

Owen walked over to where the targets were and started to swing them; once this was done he hurried back to Dilora’s side. “Now when you aim, try and lead the target with your arrow. If you fire it at the center of the target you will at best hit the outer edge. Instead try aiming for the outer leading edge, that should allow you to get much closer to the center.”

 

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~Dilora~

 

She took in his words carefully, considering the aspects of the wind on her arrows in flight and just that one simple movement of lifting her arm higher improving her aim.  Dilora was impressed.  The second arrow she had loosed had flown much truer than the first, and she appreciated this insight.  Although not a callous person, it was easy without too much skill to cause unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal being hunted, and Dilora was grateful for the chance of learning how to kill cleanly.  No one deserved undue suffering, not to mention the fact that it was wasteful to use more than one arrow if it wasn’t necessary.  She smiled her thanks and practiced drawing back the bowstring as she had been taught.

 

“Thank you for the tip.”  Dilora said ruefully.  It was clear she had a lot to learn about the weapon she carried, even though she considered herself to have some passing proficiency with the thing.  She’d never make a Birgitte Silverbow, but at least she might stand more chance of successful hunts and if all else failed there were always archery competitions in village fetes.

 

This time, Dilora aimed along the length of the arrow’s wooden shaft and pointed it towards the outside leading edge of the circle as Owen had mentioned to do.  When she was confident she had a fairly good shot, Dilora let the quarrel fly towards the target.  It felt more certain at least she thought so.  There wasn’t anything left to do but open her eyes and try and make out how successful she had been.

 

“How did I do?”  She asked.

 

~Owen~

 

It always amazed Owen that such small movements, small changes could cause such a dramatic improvement. In his experience he had often seen people make huge changes to how they did things and still not be able to understand that small steps were far better than giant leaps. Occasionally large steps worked, but that was usually down to unusual skill or luck, and Owen knew the latter was not reliable, and that only hard work would make the dormer happen. Dilora, however, seemed to be more than willing to listen to his suggestions and act on them, that made Owen’s task that much easier.

 

“Well I would say that is one target that will not threaten us again.” Grinning at Dilora, Owen waited a moment then continued. “However, doing it once or twice is not what we are after here. A clean kill must occur every time we use our weapons, if not we are no better than poachers and bandits. Above all we have to strive to make the kill as clean as possible, every time.” Owen spoke in a level voice, he always tried to keep from becoming overly emotional when training students, it served no purpose except to make the student resentful. “To that end I would like you to spend the rest of the day, and at least an hour a day, preferable more, practising what you have been shown. Practice is boring I know, but to become one with your weapon you must work at it. If you do that you will be able to shoot with more confidence every time. More confidence in your own abilities allows you to judge situations more easily. It is not always animals that we hunt, sometimes we have to go up against two-legs.”

 

Owen reached for the water skin that he always carried on his belt and after removing the cork handed it to Dilora. “I know as a peddler you must face situations where the only option is flight. There is not great shame in that; quite often the only way to avoid confrontation is to leave. There are many bold warriors, and a few old warriors, but there are no old, bold, warriors.” Dilora handed the water skin back to Owen and he took a couple of sips from it then replaced it on his belt. “Knowledge of your weapon, and your ability with it, will serve you for the rest of your life, and if you pay attention to what you are shown here, your life should be a long one, and I have no doubt a profitable one. Now I have other duties to see to and so must leave you on your own. I suggest you spend as much time here today as you can. In three days time there is a hunt planned, you are welcome to join us and then we can see what your skills are like when it is for real. If you need me just call in at the Barracks, or if I am not there, ask around, I am usually easy to find. I will of course look in on you day to day, and we will always meet up at my place at the end of the day, if you are comfortable staying there. If not there is the Infirmary, or Wall’s Inn. Both offer excellent accommodation and you will be made welcome there. Until tonight then.”

 

With those words Owen left Dilora and made his way to his office in the Barracks, where, he had no doubt, there would be a mountain of paperwork and matters that needed his attention.

 

~Dilora~ 

 

She felt easier knowing that she did not have an audience.  Performing in front of people was not anything new to Dilora, but when it was something she was not overly good at yet, or something she could make mistakes in, she preferred to be alone.  If all else failed she would make the watchers laugh and take their good-natured jibes with a pinch of salt.  At least they would remember her with a smile on their faces.  That was good for business, that was.

 

Nock.  Draw.  Loose.  Nock.  Draw.  Loose.  A hint of breeze ruffled her fringe as Dilora pulled back arrow after arrow after arrow, aiming them at the target as she had been shown.  Owen had been more than a good teacher.  She felt more comfortable after the first two shots had gone the same as the first successful one, and now after a short while, it was beginning to take it’s toll on her arms.  Drawing and loosing constantly was harder than she thought.  The baking sun was not precisely helping, and a sweat blossomed across her forehead and down between her shoulder blades as the day progressed.

 

As she had been taught, she did not aim for the exact centre of the target, more for the outer leading edge of it and she was rewarded for her efforts.  The times she had sighted along the arrow’s length had also resulted in greater accuracy, and once she actually managed to hit the exact centre of the target!  That made her smile and falsely buoyed her confidence to the point of increasing her distance from the target. 

 

She wished she hadn’t.

 

The arrow twanged from the bow, speeding through the air towards the dimly visible target and sailed off course, carried by an errant riff of breeze.  It buried itself deeply in the frame that held the target up, causing Dilora to look around to make sure no one had seen the abominable attempt.  She shook her head ruefully and went to the target, laying a hand on the frame and trying to prize the arrow out before anyone could notice her damaging the woodwork.  Practising for an hour every day did seem like hard work when she could be travelling, or selling things, but he was right.  It was dangerous to travel alone and she would likely end up dead in a ditch if she could not take care of herself.  At least with a bow she had that little bit more chance, and the only other option was to find a guard – one that would stay with her for more than a day and then leave.  Good guards were hard to find…

 

Dilora sat on the grass, turning the bow over and over in her hands.  She closed her eyes and hefted the weight of it, running her hand from one end of the finely crafted bow to the other.  She sighed.  It would take her a long time to get fully acquainted with this bow.  She supposed she would have to sleep with it, oil it every day, and take it out to see the sights – treat it better than a lover and give it more attention if she wanted the best results from it. 

 

Useless ponderings that wouldn’t sprout feathers from wood though.

 

Returning to her position, Dilora assumed the position that Owen taught her, lifting her arm to where he had advised would give her the best chance of hitting the target and she wiped her brow.  Surely no one would notice if she sat down for a bit and had a little rest…  The day was hot, after all.  The memory of golden eyes watching her from places unseen and their strange communion with those that walked with them made her think that there was not a single place she could go and not be seen.  With a sigh, Dilora pulled back the bowstring once more.

 

The sun was wheeling down behind the trees by the time Dilora stopped to think again.  Having only occasional breaks to rest, stretch her arms and take on a little water, Dilora was really feeling the strain.  Owen had said to meet soon, either back in his tree house or at the inn.  The thought of a drink would be quite nice, but she wanted to brush her hair first.  With the sun sinking down behind the trees, Dilora climbed the steps back to Owen’s house, hoping she wouldn’t fall and make a complete idiot of herself.  Brushing her hair, Dilora hummed to herself sat on the bed she had slept in the night before, feeling the pull of tired muscles that would surely ache like fury in the morning.

 

~Owen~

 

The forest was still, the air heavy under the thick canopy of the leaves, no wind stirred the leaves, and no sound could be heard. In a sunlit glade, a large boar stood, the ivory of its tusks gleaming in the sunlight as it rummaged for something to eat. It did not know it, but it was being stalked, and at this very moment an arrow was drawing a line to its heart. The arrow flew true and swift and easily penetrated the thick hide of the boar, the force of the blow causing the boar to stagger, and then collapse on the ground.

 

A figure emerged from the under growth, completely swathed in green and brown coloured clothing, even their face and hands were covered. In one hand was a tall bow of unusual design. The figure slowly removed the hood and revealed a stone white face framed by matted white hair, the golden eyes gleaming in reflected light. A second, shorter, figure followed the first, also covered from head to toe in forest colours. However when she removed her hood there were no golden eyes, instead there was a good-looking female face, covered in a light sheen of sweat.

 

“That is how it should work Dilora, taking you time is the difference between a clean stalk and a failed one. Always remember to approach upwind, never downwind. Keep your approach slow and careful, watch where you place your feet. Not just your feet also make sure you do not disturb any branches with your bow or your body. The quieter you are the more chance you will have of a successful hunt.”

 

Owen stopped talking and put two fingers to his lips and blew. A shrill piercing sound was answered by the same sound and another three people emerged from the undergrowth. “Take this one back to the camp, skin it and prepare the meet for the journey back to the Stedding. Dilora and I will carry on with our hunt and return later.” Owen turned back to where Dilora was standing; she had retrieved his arrow and had cleaned it as he had shown her. Handing it back to him Dilora enquired where they were going next.

 

“I think we need to move away from this area, game will be scarce for the rest of the day here. I suggest we head northwards and see if we can find something for you to stalk. Just remember what I have said and you will do well, come on.” Owen slipped the hood over his head, and waited for Dilora to do the same, before disappearing into the forest on the far side of the glade. Now it was time for Dilora to demonstrate the improvement in her abilities against the real thing and not a straw filled dummy. After about two hours of walking, Owen signalled to Dilora to take the lead, and pointed to a small game trail off to the side of the track.

 

~Dilora~

 

 

It had surprised her how easy it had been.  Owen had proven his skill as a hunter, and the large boar that had been carried away would certainly prove good eating as a result of his skill.  She wondered how quietly she could move among bracken and undergrowth and doubted she could move as ghost-like as the wolf-man.  There was a knack to it, Dilora discovered.  Half of it was a question of knowing where to place your feet, the other half lifting your feet and keeping light on them in order to avoid twigs and other telltale bits of scenery.  It felt surprisingly oppressive under the canopy of cover, but being properly camouflaged was one of the key points of a successful hunt, she supposed.

 

The hood of her cloak once more covered her face and Dilora stored away Owen’s words.  Never hunt in an area where you’ve already hunted – that was just common sense because the game would be scared and know the scent of humans.  They would stay away from the area until the scents had faded.  So she would approach from upwind, never downwind, from now on, taking her time and making as little noise as possible.  That would not be too hard to forget.  Following him, Dilora noticed how his feet avoided the obvious signs of obstructions of the forest floor and kept his weight evenly distributed to avoid overbalancing. 

 

They travelled northwards for a time, keeping to narrow paths and leaving the area Owen had shot the boar far behind them.  The sound of small birds calling to each other from tree to tree filled the air, and the sun warmed leaf and branch to give a lush smell of greenery.  A squirrel darted across a branch overhead, drawing Dilora’s gaze sharply upwards, before disappearing into branches higher up, out of her sight.  It was amazing how close to nature she felt, creeping stealthily through the trees and trying to stay in the shadows as much as possible. 

 

She made mistakes, of course she did.  Dilora had winced the first time she had stepped on a large twig, closer to a branch that had issued a resounding ‘crack’ around them.  Her tutor and guide and turned out and looked at her sharply before grinning as he put a finger to his lips.  Silently cursing herself, Dilora clenched her fingers around the bow and told herself to calm down before moving on, following Owen on towards the boar. 

 

Now, she saw Owen’s figure stop just ahead of her and Dilora paused.

 

~Owen~

 

The weather conditions obviously favoured Dilora, Owen well remembered his first time out hunting with Riverwind, that day the wind had been blowing a gale and Owen had been sure that the hunt would have been called off, but it had not been. Riverwind had been correct that the weather would not wait for you to be hungry, or well fed, so it was up to the person to adapt to the conditions, not expect them to adapt to the person’s needs. Dilora moved well in the forest, there was something of the dancer about her movements and Owen could nto but help being reminded of how lithe ‘Ris could be when she put her mind to it. Although Dilora made more noise than Owen would have preferred, it was her first time and allowance had to be made for that. As it was though, she had obviously listened to Owen’s instructions and taken them to heart, there was many a Wanderer who could not perform as well as she did.

 

Owen stopped behind a large oak tree and signalled for Dilora to move up next to him. Lifting the front of his hood up, Owen put his mouth next to Dilora’s ear. “It is your turn now Dilora. I reckon our quarry is about a hundred yards further down the trail. Take your time, set up your shot and when you are ready take it. But do not rush it, we have plenty of time and can even stay out all night if we need to.”

 

~Dilora~

 

It took a while for the brownish lump to resolve into something that resembled another boar.  Owen had far sharper eyesight than Dilora did, and it took a fair few moments of peering at the undergrowth to make out that the shape she had originally taken for a log was in fact moving and snuffling slightly.  She now saw her prey and also the necessity for being quiet.  Dilora could not hear Owen breathing, or many other sounds that were not of human creation.  Except, perhaps, that she could hear the beating of her own heart. 

 

Now that she could see her prey it became a little easier.  Ever so slowly she reached into her quiver for an arrow and eased it into place, pulling back the bowstring as she had been taught.  Dilora had watched Owen carefully while he had stalked the first boar and the time he had taught her how to aim and consider the wind properly, and now she felt a little more confident in actually hunting.  Her arm felt a little strained from holding the bowstring back, and it would do until her constant daily practice strengthened the muscles there.  Right now, she ignored it, but later on she knew she would want a hot bath.  Dilora put everything out of her mind except the target, concentrating on it as hard as she could.

 

She let the arrow fly.

 

Dilora did not know if she had hit the target as once she had lined it up and loosed the arrow, she closed her eyes.  She heard a muffled thud and opened them again, and saw the boar collapsed on the ground, dead.  Her arrow had taken it through the heart, although it had moved when the arrow was about a foot away, or she would have shot it through the neck instead.  Lucky.  Half of her wanted to jump and whoop with delight, but given her location, she didn’t.  She didn’t want Owen to think her a total woolhead and she also didn’t want to scare a bigger boar into charging at them.  A smile settled onto her face instead.  Turning to Owen, Dilora nodded once, and then moved slowly towards her kill. 

 

“Like that, eh?”  There was a triumphant note in her voice as she looked down at the boar.  It was a little bigger than the one Owen had brought down, she noted wryly that she’d need a bigger target than him, as she wasn’t as good a shot.  The size was unimportant, really.  Maybe she’d use some of the herbs she’d brought in her wagon so they could have some fragrant smoked ham for the leftover meat.  She dismissed the thought as a nice gesture and realised the wolves would probably get whatever the humans did not eat, if they did not receive the choice portions first. 

 

“Did I do alright?”  She was curiously hopeful for Owen’s approval.  Dilora would note today in her diary as the day she hunted with wolves, but it would not feel the same if he didn’t think she’d done a good job.

 

~Owen~

 

Because of the length of their hunt, Owen had decided it would make more sense to spend the night out in the woods rather than try to make it back to the camp. Most of the journey would have taken place in the dark, which would not have been a problem for Owen, but could have been for Dilora. Knowing this area as he did it did not take Owen long to find a more than adequate place to spend the night.

 

Entering the cave Owen was pleased to see that the supplies that were stashed throughout the mountains and forest surrounding the Stedding. There were several more sights such as this were emergency supplies were stored, usually high up in the mountain passes, but there were a few in the lower foot hills as well.

 

The boar that Dilora had shot provided the main course for their evening meal, augmented by some herbs and dumplings that Owen made from some of the supplies. They had their meal outside the cave by the fire Owen had built. As they ate, Owen went over the events of the day, pointing out where Dilora would need to improve, and what she did right. “Seeing as you are not used to the hunt, you did very well today and can feel pleased with yourself.”

 

They continued to talk, the warmth of the fire replacing the warmth of the sun as it sank behind the mountains. In the forest darkness always came quickly, and soon all there was for illumination was the fire and the stars above. Thankfully it was a cloudless night and Owen thought it would be a fine day tomorrow.

 

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Because of the length of their hunt, Owen had decided it would make more sense to spend the night out in the woods rather than try to make it back to the camp. Most of the journey would have taken place in the dark, which would not have been a problem for Owen, but could have been for Dilora. Knowing this area as he did it did not take Owen long to find a more than adequate place to spend the night.

 

Entering the cave Owen was pleased to see that the supplies that were stashed throughout the mountains and forest surrounding the Stedding. There were several more sights such as this were emergency supplies were stored, usually high up in the mountain passes, but there were a few in the lower foot hills as well.

 

The boar that Dilora had shot provided the main course for their evening meal, augmented by some herbs and dumplings that Owen made from some of the supplies. They had their meal outside the cave by the fire Owen had built. As they ate, Owen went over the events of the day, pointing out where Dilora would need to improve, and what she did right. “Seeing as you are not used to the hunt, you did very well today and can feel pleased with yourself.”

 

They continued to talk, the warmth of the fire replacing the warmth of the sun as it sank behind the mountains. In the forest darkness always came quickly, and soon all there was for illumination was the fire and the stars above. Thankfully it was a cloudless night and Owen thought it would be a fine day tomorrow.

Owen

 

The WhiteWolf

 

Ranger Leader

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~Dilora~

 

Her legs were not precisely aching by the time they reached where Dilora and her hunt-tutor would camp for the night.  Spending most of her time travelling and sleeping in the open countryside in her wagon, she was used to eating outside but there were precious few occasions she had slept in a cave.  The cheerful blaze of the fire flickered patterns up the walls and danced across the tree trunks, and as night fell, the two talked over the day’s events while eating the spoils from the hunt. 

 

She had to admit it was nice to have a sit down and nice to have some company, although Dilora patted at her belt for a hip flask before realising she had left it with the other belongings that might have made a noise.  At first when the talking began to slow she thought it was quiet, but there were myriad noises all around them.  It just took a little concentration to distinguish what they were.

 

Night birds called to each other, announcing warnings or prey and, in the shadows outside the fire’s warm touch, other creatures were active.  The sounds of bracken moving could have been a hedgehog trying to find grubs to eat or even a wolf creeping near silently towards a place to sleep.  Above all, the crackling of the fire reaching for the sky was a comfort in terms of warmth and light. 

 

She knew she would remember the tips and techniques Owen had imparted long after today.  It would stay with her as long as she remembered to practice daily, and that gave her an idea.  Somehow, Dilora would have to make herself a target and put a hook on the back of her wagon.  Then she would have a target to aim at every day and in keeping it in the wagon itself, she could not lose it. 

 

The stew was delicious.  Dilora complimented Owen on his culinary skills and enquired as to which herbs had been used in the dumplings so she could try it herself one day.  “If it is difficult to transport the rest of the boar back to your house, I don’t mind turning it into sausages – that would make it easier.  With some herbs, we could lay them on a frame over the fire and they would be nicely smoked by morning.”  She left the suggestion dangling, but sleep was beginning to overtake her.  Soon she would want a blanket and maybe something soft for a pillow, as she could feel her eyes starting to close.  She wondered what the morrow would hold.

 

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