Journey to Esidarap - Part Six
Esidarap stood on the horizon like a giant beacon of death calling toward Brand without mercy. It was still several days away but the land for miles and miles was scorched by the evil ways of its current ruler, Zadara. In the permanent darkness that had swallowed the land, the lights from the city illuminated the area for miles. All they had to do was move ahead, so ahead they moved.
For now, though, they'd come to a stop. The long travel had taken its toll on them and rest was required. So, they sat around a burning fire with silence between them as they considered the dreaded events about to take place. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the final battle with Zadara would be a difficult one.
When the silence became too much for Brand, his mind no longer willing to think about the battle ahead, he spoke up. "We need a distraction. Anything will do. If I had my guitar... anyone have a story?"
"What kind of story do you seek, Wielder?" Borodan said.
"Anything, man. Anything as long as it takes our minds off the impending doom."
Borodan's fiery complexion shifted faintly as he considered this. Finally, he said: "Very well, I have a story. Long ago, when I was a small child, after I'd discovered my ability to speak to animals, there was a time in my life when all was right in my world. This was before I knew of Zadara and her evil city of chaos. Long before I'd journeyed out into this world to try and make a difference. Long before those soldiers had captured me. This was a simpler time, when people worked the land to keep their families fed and adventures stood just beyond the doorstep of every home. I was fifteen at the time and the animals were my only friends, until..."
"...Who is she?" Borodan murmured to himself.
He stood on the porch of his small, humble home. A squirrel chewed lazily on a nut at his feet. Across the way, the greatest vision of beauty he'd ever witnessed had just stepped out of a clothing shop. Her golden hair tumbled over her shoulders in perfect curls. As she studied the map in her hand, Borodan's heart skipped a few beats then went into overdrive. Never in his life could he have expected such a girl could exist, much less in his own town! The gods were truly smiling on him this day.
The squirrel at Borodan's feet looked up at him for a moment, decided the nuts were gone, and scampered away in a flash. But he didn't notice. No. He was transfixed in a way he'd only heard about.
Something needed to be done. Something manly, so she'd notice him. He forced himself to look away from this vision of perfection. It wasn't easy, not by any means, but he did it, nonetheless. That was when an idea struck him so hard he had no doubt it came from the gods themselves. They had given him a gift, after all. Surely this meant he was supposed to use it when they gave him sudden inspiration. Right?
Borodan leapt off the porch and ran into the forest to the right of his house. The strong scent of pine filled his nostrils with that homey, pleasant feeling of being where you were meant to be. As he ran through the trees, his mind ventured out, making contact with every living thing around him until he found what he was looking for. A right, a left, and two minutes later he was there, standing before the rocky cave opening. He didn't dare go in, but he called toward the beast inside.
A loud roar blasted from the opening of the cave and the biggest grizzly bear this side of the world ventured out. This ancient mammoth of a bear had to be at least one-hundred years old; its fur was a muted gray, while its eyes had a slightly hazy look to them. Again, it roared from that sky-scrapingly tall head. It had to be at least ten feet tall. Probably much taller.
"Hey, boy." Borodan eyed the beast without fear. Since he'd learned and developed his gift, no animal could scare him anymore. He felt he was almost one of them in the years that followed that discovery. With a few choice thoughts, any animal could be tamed and that alone was enough to keep the fear from his heart.
The bear roared again.
Borodan smiled. Okay, big fellow, I need your help here. I'm going to go back to town and I want you to follow me. When I get there, I'm going to find a girl and show her to you. I want you to attack her. But don't really attack her, now. Just do a little play for me. Then I'll come up and "scare" you off without fear, and she'll be like my hero! Okay?
The beast's head nodded up and down, roaring yet again.
Borodan clapped his hands and grinned widely. He ran back for town, glancing back occasionally to make sure the bear was following him. Sure enough, the beast lumbered through the forest after him.
As luck would have it, or perhaps it was fate, the girl had just walked by the forest when Borodan emerged. He jogged up behind her and cleared his throat.
Time froze when she turned around and smiled at him. He could smell her perfume, assaulting his nose with pleasure beyond measure. "Hello," she said in a voice that could only be described as angelic.
Of course, he his voice decided to take a vacation. When he tried to speak, nothing came out except for a squeak. Red-hot embarrassment flooded his cheeks.
"Are you okay?" she said. Her eyes were bluer than the sky on the clearest, most perfect day.
Still, though, he couldn't speak. So he nodded instead.
"All right." She smiled and started to walk away.
That was when the bear burst through the forest and roared a bellowing roar that nearly shook the very earth Borodan stood upon. The monstrous beast charged at the girl with arms flailing about wildly.
She'd spun around at the sound of the roar, of course, and was now screaming her head off as she tried to run from the creature. Borodan, however, was still frozen in place from his close encounter with this goddess. Everything was happening far too quickly.
The girl tripped over her dress and tumbled into the dirt sending up a cloud of dust, while the bear loomed dangerously close. Her face had become a mask of pitiful horror as the unbelievably loud screams wailed endless from her mouth.
Borodan finally broke free of the spell that had stalled him and ran after the bear. Acting was never one of his strong suits, but he found he was actually a bit scared. What if his powers failed him at the wrong time? It was unthinkable, yet he couldn't stop thinking just that.
"Stop, bear! Leave that girl alone!" he shouted.
Then something happened that stopped him dead in his tracks. Gunshots rang out in the brisk morning air. One after the other, repeatedly, to the point of uncountable numbers.
Borodan stood in place, locked with horror, as the bear toppled backward and slammed into the ground with a sickening thud. At first, Borodan wasn't sure what was happening. Then his entire body felt like it had exploded. He dropped to the ground, pain ripping through him as if he'd been shot himself. Every part of his body screamed out in untamable pain. Then everything went black.
But passing out was a saving grace that wasn't afforded to young, naive Borodan. In the blackness, he found more pain. The bear's life, one hundred years of survival, flowed through his darkened mind. He saw everything the bear saw. Felt everything the bear felt. But worse of all was the end. The complete and total trust the bear had put in this kid that could talk to him. There was never a doubt of danger and only a feeling of joy at being able to help. And now the very kid that gave the bear a simple game to play was responsible for the death of the bear.
When Borodan awoke several hours later, the heavenly girl was there. Her goddess quality was gone, though. All Borodan could see in her was death.
Once again the silence was back. When Borodan finished the story, all that could be heard was the crackling of burning wood. Next to Brand, Miranda (Chrava) rubbed at her eyes as if some ash had flown in them. Brand himself poked at the burning logs, shifting them around.
The story echoed louder for Chrava. She felt the pain and saw the passing life of the bear as it haunted Borodan's mind.
Brand wanted a story to get all of their minds off the future and he got it, all right. Loud and clear. No more future doom lurking in those minds, no. Just past mistakes. The story opened up a can of worms in them all, for none of them were clear and free of past mistakes. As they drifted to sleep for the night, they were all haunted by their past and not one of them thought about the future that night.To be continued...