Naming the Bane
(Please view with Paragraph indent on)
"Tell it again, father. Please?" Soft, little hands tugged playfully at his rough fingers. Her voice was like a sparrow's song. That was what he called her, his Little Bird. Her curls of brown hair bounced like coils of silk ribbon as she pulled.
Sitting on the edge of her small make-shift bed, he smiled. "No. Not again, Samana." He raised the woven multicolor blankets for her, and she slid underneath. "I've already told you the story of Selene and Almoth twice tonight. Now, it is time to sleep," he said as he tucked her in. Brushing the curls from her pale face, he gently kissed her forehead. She smelled like lilacs and soap.
"Father," she said, her bright yellow eyes looking up into his, "will I be as pretty as Lady Selene one day?"
He smiled again and looked at the book sitting on the table next to her bed. The story was not very old, a tale of heroes from before the war. A brother and sister fighting together for the rights of others. Many believed it to be true, but altered, as were many things since the war. So much had changed since then.
"Of course, Little Bird. Now, close your eyes." he said as he stood, and then he reached to extinguish the lantern hanging from the arched beams overhead.
"Wait! Don't put it out," she said. Her eyes, filled with worry, peered over the blankets clutched in her hands.
He sat back down on the edge of the bed and laid a large hand on her shoulder. "It's alright, Samana. I will be just outside."
But she would not be swayed and grabbed his arm when he stood again.
"All right. All right. I will leave it lit, but only a bit. We have to save the oil." With that, he lowered the flame.
He took a deep breath. The smell of old oak and pine mixed with a touch of lantern oil filled his nostrils; it was a good smell. The smell of home. Then he threw a heavy fur-lined cloak over his back and pushed open the wooden door, its hinges creaking. He pulled up the hood and exited into the winter night.
Outside, the wind stung with cold, though no snow fell. The short stairs moaned under his weight as he stepped to the blanketed ground. Like many of the other wagons that made up the caravan, his was sturdy, but old and showing wear.
He sat on the last step to wait for his wife to return from the washing wagon—a storage wagon converted into a washroom during the winter—then stood again when he saw her walking toward him. With one hand, she held a sack of clothing over her shoulder, and with the other she kept her tasseled burgundy hood up against the wind. Her cloak whipped violently behind her.
Her gentle, round face looked as tired as he felt. "Is Samana in bed, Daggis?" she asked him, the snow crunching under her feet.
Daggis. It was not his real name, but one he had given himself. After realizing what he was, his mother had named him out of fear and disdain. A name he would rather forget.
"Yes, Valene, and you should get some rest yourself." He guided her to the door and assisted her up the steps, her soft mittens plush in his rough leather gloves. She leaned down from the top step to kiss him before entering.
They lingered there, her warm lips resting gently on his as he breathed the sweet aroma of her skin. When they were married, Valene had told him she wanted to make every moment together count; the life they lived made no promise of tomorrow.
After she went in, the wind banged the door shut behind her and the light went out inside. Samana must have already fallen asleep because no complaints were made this time.
Daggis pulled his cloak tight around him and went to find a fire.
The middle of camp was a large area where the snow had been packed down. It was encompassed by wagons, which blocked a little of the wind. Men of different races sat or stood around a central fire; some of them talked amongst themselves, but most were silent. Over the fire, several small rodents hung skewered on spits, cooked and uncooked alike.
Daggis chose to sit on the ground with his back to one of the logs that had been placed there as a bench. The fire cut the chill at his front, but not behind him. The smell of meat cause his stomach to growl loudly, betraying his hunger, and some of the men around him laughed.
"Swallow some beast whole there, Daggis?" the man on his left chuckled. He was an older, stocky fellow with a graying beard and knuckles like knots in a tree poking through his holey gloves.
"I wish," Daggis murmured, staring into the fire.
Winter had come early, and the caravan had traveled a long way trying to escape it. Some had died, and the rest barely managed to survive, gathering whatever supplies they could find and eating whatever they could catch. Sometimes that meant nothing at all. Tonight's firewood had come from the surrounding forest, but other nights the whole camp ate cold food, if there was any.
The man reached for a spit with an uncooked rodent on it and gave it to Daggis. "Eat."
Daggis hesitated, staring at the rodent in his hand with blood dripping down the spit. The thought of eating something raw still made him queasy, even after all this time, but he had never been able to stomach anything else. Hunger drove him and he sank his teeth into it anyway. The fire had warmed it, at least. He always expected his stomach to roil, but instead it peaked his appetite and he picked the animal clean, being sure to waste as little as possible. Satisfied, he tossed the remains into the fire. He began licking the blood from his gloves, but stopped when he noticed some of the other men staring.
Daggis washed his gloves with snow and then pulled his cloak tighter around him. He attempted to appear content, but his stomach once again betrayed him.
"If you are still hungry, son, you can have some more," the older man said. He sounded concerned.
"I've had enough, Hamil. Give it to the children. They need it more." Daggis said. He definitely wanted it, but could not bear the thought of someone else going hungry while he was satisfied.
"You should really eat your fill, Daggis," Hamil prodded. "Won't do anyone any good if you drop in the snow. You need your energy."
When Daggis refused again, Hamil raised a ceramic flagon and several metal mugs from beside the log he was sitting on. "Then at least drink with me." He poured the dark ale and passed the mugs out to the men.
"What about?" Daggis asked, accepting a mug. The ale smelled fruity, but was bitter.
Hamil looked around at the wagons and the other men, then up toward the stars. "Everything. Peace and happiness."
"Fleeting dreams," Daggis said grimly. There was not much to be happy about, and they all knew it. He shifted his weight to get comfortable and pulled the cloak tighter once more.
Hamil sobered, fixating on his cup. "Sometimes..." he started, "sometimes, dreams are all people like us have left. The war may have taken away our homes and our livelihoods, but we still have our families, and our lives, and each other."
Daggis nodded in agreement. He could toast to that.
The night continued with much drinking and conversation, which soon became slurred and loud. They drank to wash away the sorrow and the pain of loved ones lost, to drown out thoughts of the threats they faced every day, and to forget the fears that they may be next. They drank so they could cheer and be merry, if only for a night. As the night went on, one by one, the men headed to their wagons until only Hamil and Daggis remained.
"Well, my friend, don't stay up too late,” Hamil said as he stood and patted Daggis on the shoulder. “We head out early tomorrow."
Daggis turned to look at the man. "Have we been followed?"
Hamil stared into the distance between the wagons, as if focusing on something in the darkness of the forest. "Not that I can tell, but you never can be too careful," he said with a slight slur before wandering off to find his wagon.
Daggis waved the man off, feeling drunk himself. He decided he would wait until his thoughts started to clear before he would attempt to make it back to his own wagon. The wind had died down and the warmth of the fire felt rather comfortable.
End of preview.