Bahrd stole down the holloway, slipping from one patch of mogshade to another; occasionally he was pierced by hot barbs of shrivelight. He paused for a moment and tried to tune out the beating of his heart, pricking his ears for the sound of pursuit. Three days shy of his 100th birthday, the youngest Senior Journeyman of the Edgemakers Guild was on the run. He looked back down the holloway.
He started again, hurrying down the green-lit path between the trees. He spotted the tree that was his marker and stepped up his pace, finding the quick rhythm required. He counted paces. He leapt. His hands reached out and up. His fingers found the branch and he pulled himself up. Many amongst the dwarfkind had the strength to perform the manoeuvre, but few had the requisite height.
Bahrd worked his way back up the path in the direction that he had come from, but now he was up above the holloway looking down through the leaves. There – he found the gap that would allow him to penetrate into the forest, and worked his way down into the deep-woods. Even should they pick up the trail, it was unlikely that they would follow him there…
There were those that whispered that he was too young to be a journeyman, no matter that his ‘prentice pieces outshone anything created in the Guild for a generation. Some said he was flighty. Some said he was too inquisitive, that he was too impetuous. There were those that stated bluntly that he would never be a Master. No one noticed that the Guildmaster, the venerable Fighrd, kept his own counsel.
Still, all this was moot now. Jealousy, like a corrupting worm, had buried itself in the heart of the guild, and had just now erupted in a vicious prank. Aimed at one of the senior Masters, designed to make Bahrd look bad, the prank had claimed the life of an apprentice. The Guild Guards had been dispatched, and for all his cleverness, all his subtlety, Bahrd felt himself being forced into corner. Yes, he had allies; yes, there were contingencies…but he also had enemies in high places, and whilst he had a fair idea that the events leading up to the tragedy had been enacted by a vindictive journeyman who coveted Bahrd’s title, there was a whiff of conspiracy, a taint of a particular brain, Master Nohrd’s, behind the plot. Bahrd might have stayed, attempted to prove his case, endured what ever deprivations would come his way. He might have done these things, if not for the note: “We are coming for you.” Even this on its own might have been dealt with – had he trusted the Council. Whilst there were Masters that he liked, trusted, in some cases even respected, none of these feeling extended to the Council. And so, he fled.
But even his fleeing was not some blind rout. He was an Edgemaker. The youngest Senior Journeyman the Guild had ever seen, and if his style saw him clash with the Council and certain Masters from time to time, he still had a card to play, an edge, even now.
He felt, by rights, that it should have been a dark night, storm-tossed, riven by lightening. Instead, it was a glorious summer’s day. For this, despite the lack of the dramatic, he was glad. The cliff beneath the dormitory windows was treacherous enough – his first edge, as no one believed that it could be climbed in one direction or the other – but rain-slick hand-holds might well prove fatal. He would have to use the holloway to complete his escape from the Guild; a calculated risk, as it was unlikely that there would be anyone using it today.
Dwarfkind didn’t like the forests, didn’t trust them. Bahrd was not a typical dwarf. It was not that he minded the mines and mountain halls – that would have been too strange – but he liked solitude and the deep-woods were mercifully free of the idiots that surrounded him every day. He’d ranged through the trees in many directions, for as far as you could go and return in a three days and two nights. It was on one of these jaunts that Bahrd had discovered The Tree. He called it this, for it seemed unlike any other tree that he had ever come across, and it was clearly the oldest tree for many leagues, perhaps in all the world. Further, this tree talked. At times it seemed senile, perhaps due to its immense age, perhaps due to the loss of wood at its core. Other times it was full of sage advice and gossiped of events far away, although how it come by its knowledge Bahrd had no concept.
On a trip to visit The Tree, years before, Bahrd had even negotiated with this ancient, a strange parley, which had left Bahrd unsure as to who had the best of the deal. The Tree had agreed to store certain of Bahrd’s treasures and tools against future need, an edge which Bahrd had taken gladly, not realising how he would need to use it.
He arrived at Dusk: “I have come for my things, honourable tree”.
“Very well.” The voice was the rustle of leaves, the creaking of branches. “But then it is also time for you to fulfil your part of the bargain.”
Bahrd reached in to the hollow. He had slept in here before now, but he was never quite sure what he would find on any given visit, nor where his things went between times. What was also strange was that not everything that he had placed here had been returned, but everything that he would need for a long journey had been given to him. In addition, there was a small package, made from woven bark, lined with leaves. Nestled in the leaves was some kind of seed, a large one, that was beginning to put out a root and a shoot.
“My time is nearly at an end, and so I must think of the future. Do not worry for your goods, they will be here when you come again, but you must take this with you when you leave.”
“What must I do?”
“Take it with you. You will know what must be done, when it must be done. For now, sleep. The forest will watch.”
Fighrd sighed. He did not like, on a personal level, what he had done. The truth was, however, that he had repaid a favour to an old friend, and put an asset safely out of the way, for a while. What Bahrd would do in the World was a problem for another day, although he had some thoughts in that regard too. For now, though, he needed to remove a thorn… He turned from his contemplation of the forest, stretching away in all directions from the base of the mountain.
“Send for Nohrd. It is time we discussed certain truths.”
© David Jesson, 2018
“Wow! Just wow!”
”That’s not quite the response I was expecting …”
”No, no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so banal. But, when you said you had a refuge, I thought … I dunno, some kind of attic, even a summer house, just … not this. This is amazing. This is magical.”
”Thanks. I always feel a bit of a drama queen calling it my refuge. After all, my family are good people, it’s just that boundaries are not their thing. Well, other than a thing to step right over without thought. They’re all such extroverts and I’m … just not.”
”It’s one of the many things I love about you …”
“That you’re not an extrovert. I’d have been too scared to speak to you otherwise.”
”I’m so glad you did. I’ve never had anyone who I could show this place to, as they’d not get it. It feels safe, and magical – but it also inspires me to write. I have this little pop-up tent and a sleeping bag I use when I need to stay away a bit longer. When they see me in the kitchen making up sandwiches and flasks of drinks, they all tease me rotten. I wonder if they realise how close I am to not coming back.”
“Really? You’d just go …?”
“If the folk in my stories were real, yes, I’d go … in a heartbeat.”
© Debra Carey, 2018