AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
Chaca walked across the fortress square beginning his patrol duty. When he heard a shout, he looked to the northern side of the butte and saw someone standing at the cliff’s edge. “Captain of the Guard,” he shouted back over his shoulder as he ran toward the intruder. Skidding to a stop at the groove, he held his spear out in front of him in attack position. He could hear boots striking the ground behind him as others ran across the square in his direction.
“What threatens the fortress?” a female guard asked as she skidded to a stop beside him.
“I know not, Frenah,” Chaca answered. “Captain of the Guard,” he shouted again.
Frenah looked back at the others hurrying toward them. “I do not see him. Why does he not come?”
“He is dead.”
“What say you?” Chaca asked.
Daidam turned to face the others. “He is dead!”
“This cannot be.”
“Daidam?” Kailen called out when he arrived to find his sister in the forbidden zone.
Chaca grabbed Kailen to prevent him from going after his sister. He passed the boy to Frenah then turned his attention back to Daidam. “What have you done? How do you say the Captain is dead?”
“Father is dead?” Kailen exclaimed.
“What of my daughter?” Thoralf asked, pushing her way through the group of guards and others now gathered at the groove. “Daidam, what of Milas?”
For an answer, Daidam shook her head.
“Daidam, come back within the fortress. Tell us what threat you faced this eve,” Thoralf said, reaching her hand out over the groove to the guard.
Chaca pushed Thoralf away. “She has entered the forbidden zone.”
“To protect the fortress. She cannot be punished for that.”
“It is forbidden. Go back to your quarters, woman. The Captain of the Guard will decide her fate.”
“Do you not listen?” Daidam screamed. “He is dead! As is Milas.”
“No!” Thoralf cried.
“Daidam,” Frenah spoke calmly. “You must tell us what threat was faced. Why have two of the House been taken?”
“It was… It shouldn’t have…” Daidam stammered. “Milas… She was… There was no harm.”
Chaca frowned. “Your words make no sense. Tell us true.”
“Milas… I told her to return to the fortress—”
“It is forbidden.”
“Aye,” Daidam said wearily. “Fa… Captain of the Guard forbade her. He… He returned her to the Abyss.”
Chaca nodded approvingly. “He served the Realm.”
“What of Daidam?” Kailen asked.
“She is no more.”
“What say you, Chaca? She stands before our eyes.”
Chaca raised his spear to his shoulder, his action immediately duplicated by the other guards.
Daidam turned around, offering her back as a target. As she waited, she looked down hoping to see some movement that would mean her father or Milas had survived. But the distance was too great. Then her eyes spotted something. It wasn’t movement but an anomaly on the cliff face and not far below her. “Can it be?” she whispered.
“Guards, protect the Realm,” Chaca commanded.
Daidam stepped forward at the same instant the guards thrust their spears.
A wolf trotted along a path that weaved its way through the thick forest. As he rounded a turn, he spotted a fox standing beside the trail. He did not slow his steps as the fox joined him. “You heard?”
“Yes. The cry woke me. It did not sound of one of our own.”
“No. It came from above.”
“The land of the two-leggeds?”
“Do you think they come again?”
“We shall soon know.” Wolf said as they approached the foot of the butte. The forest faded behind them and the ground became uneven forcing them to move around large boulders that had long ago fallen from the cliff face. “Moose has found them,” he said when he saw the larger animal standing over a crumbled form.
“It’s a two-legged,” Moose said when Wolf and Fox trotted up beside him. Wolf cautiously approached the corpse, sniffing it. “There is no life in this one.”
Fox looked up at the moose towering above her. “This one? Are there others?”
“One. Over there.” Moose turned away to walk closer to the rock wall, his long legs stepping delicately over the rocky ground. Fox trotted ahead of Moose while Wolf continued to examine the lifeless body. “Careful. It still breathes.” Fox skittered around the second body then lowered her head and tip-toed closer. “How is it this one lives?”
“I know not. We must summon Badger.”
Wolf walked over to join the others. “I’ll go.”
“Tell her to bring her medicines.” Wolf nodded then ran back into the forest. “Moose, you must look for others. The two-leggeds deceived us before. We cannot let them do so again.”
“Will you be safe?”
“This one will not hurt me. Go. Make sure the Realm of Airini is safe.” Fox watched the moose trot off then she lay down beside the two-legged. Slowly, her body grew until it was equal in size to the one beside her. She lifted her soft, bushy tail and gently placed it protectively over the injured one. Then resting her head atop her front paws, she prepared for a long night.
Daidam dropped off the ledge, the guards’ spears passing harmlessly over her head to disappear into the Abyss. She braced for the impact she knew would come but still the shock of her boots landing on hard stone sent a jolt up her legs and into her chest. She stood for only a moment before following the path she had seen from above. Working her way down the side of the butte, she sometimes found it necessary to climb over boulders that had fallen from the rock wall or to crawl along stretches where the path narrowed to almost impassible widths. It was almost morn when she reached the bottom and began searching for her father and Milas.
Continued in Chapter Four
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