Han meets Strongclaw as well as himself.
The Chronicles of Han
*** Three ***
I slept soundly right through the rest of the night and was greatly relieved that I had no further dreams.
Mrs Langly brought more tea and food when she realized I had woken up. She assured me that neither food nor drink was drugged.
She did not ask any further questions. I suspected that Connor had asked her not to talk to me.
Halfway through breakfast a Raven made his appearance on the windowsill.
"Give me some" he ordered me, following the demand with an indignant squawk.
"Excuse me?" I asked the bird.
He hopped onto the bed, cocked his head so he had one beady black eye on me and demanded again "Give me some!"
I gave him a piece of the bread.
He pecked it out of my fingers without harming me, swallowing the piece whole.
"More" he insisted.
I put the plate down in front of him.
He ate every last crumb before hopping onto my lap.
Here he settled, comfortably starting to preen his feathers.
"I'm Han" I introduced myself.
"I'm Strongclaw" he replied.
"How can you understand me?" I wanted to know from the bird.
"How can you understand me?" he wanted to know back.
I had no way of knowing.
Strongclaw hopped back onto the windowsill.
"Thank you" he squawked before flying off.
It was such a weird experience to be able to talk to a bird, when you knew that it was not supposed to be, that I got out of bed and moved to the window in order to follow his flight over the trees of the forest.
I stood at the window until he had disappeared before turning back to the bed.
The room was ordinary, situated in the upper storey of a farmhouse. The farm equipment and haystacks I saw from the window confirmed my opinion regarding Mrs Langly.
A single bed, a cupboard, washstand and sideboard were the only furniture. There was a full length mirror standing against the one wall.
Great, so at last I would be able to meet myself.
With a thumping heart I glanced into the mirror, afraid that it might break if I saw my own reflection.
What I saw really freaked me out.
If you somehow expected to see a grown man, and suddenly the thin body of an adolescent boy was in its place, you would be upset, too.
The boy's body had a lightly tanned skin-tone. It looked ordinary and was starting to become gangly, as boys tend to become when at the age before manhood.
The face fascinated me. The hair was now short-cropped and of a goldish-reddish hue. The right side of the face was bruised and swollen. The nose had been broken and was crooked.
I would have to fix that. A High Lord could not continue on with such a nose.
I opened the mouth. The teeth were all intact. I was concerned there might be some missing.
I smiled at myself. Even in this desperate situation of me not knowing who I was or where I was, I was still proud. That one thing about myself I could remember. Handsome was always high on my priority list.
The eyes were of an unusual colour.
They were dark amber, surrounded by hazel on the outer edges and a hint of green in the inside around the iris. I had never seen such eyes before. They were non-committal, not innocent, neither menacing.
I liked the eyes.
The lips were a bit thin for my taste and the chin ordinary. All in all, a handsome face that should not attract undue attention, except if someone should stare into the eyes.
It was the one unique point that stood out. And the one point I knew I had to hide.
Better not look anyone in the eye.
Mrs Langly had laid clothes out for me on the bed when she brought the food.
My pants had been cleaned and an oversized shirt replaced my tattered one. There were still no boots available for me, so I dressed and made my way down the stairs.
I did not find anyone inside the house and slipped outside through the kitchen door.
Hearing voices on the porch, I crept around the house, desperate for any information my three companions seemed to know about me.
Disappointment settled in as I realized that they were negotiating for goods from the farmer.
Turning away, I walked over to a stone-built well, sitting down on the rim to wait for them. We were to get moving again before nightfall.
Strongclaw joined me on the edge of the well.
"You leaving again?" he inquired.
"Looks like it" I answered.
"I will join you if you promise to share your food with me."
I never knew birds had such large vocabularies. You would never know with the noise they were making. The only difference now was, he was not making noise, but sense.
"I will appreciate some company" I told him.
He fluttered up onto my shoulder and nipped my ear. It hurt and I slapped at him.
"Stop it, you will get us in trouble" I instructed him, upset with him.
He simply hopped onto my sore head, dislodging the new bandage.
"You do not need this" he replied and dropped the bandage into the well.
Great! So now I had to retrieve that before it could contaminate the water.
After some effort, and lots of comments from the Raven, I managed to fish the bandage out of the water, bringing it to the surface in the bucket.
As soon as I got hold of the wet rag, I playfully hit the bird with it.
Strongclaw gave one squawk before falling onto his back, legs sticking out into the air, beak open and tongue lolling out, pretending to have fainted.
I know it was supposed to have been funny, but my heart filled with apprehension.
This was my friend, maybe I did hurt him. I would not be able to live with myself if it was my fault that he was injured.
Gently lifting his floppy neck, I apologized profusely for injuring him, asking him to please wake up and not to die on me.
His body stiffened as he opened his eyes. Rolling over, he hopped onto my arm.
"You are far too serious" the Raven chided. "But I will not scare you like this again. I am sorry too for hurting you."
Relieved that he was alright, I gently pressed him to my chest, kissing him on his head.
"Hey, let go! You are ruffling my feathers."
On this outburst I released him and he hopped to a safe distance from where he could watch me.
Looking towards the house, I found that Brutus had been watching us. I did not know for how long, but ignored his glare, joining him where he was adjusting his pack for travel.
Connor and Drake joined us shortly. After saying goodbye to the Langlys, we continued travelling in a South-Easterly direction.
The rest of the day was taken up by a leisurely pace on a well-travelled road. Connor made sure I could keep up and did not strain myself. He was concerned that a rib might puncture a lung.
The three men rested me frequently, offering water at each stop. We made camp before sundown where Brutus disappeared to go hunt. Drake made a fire while Connor checked my injuries.
"You are healing swiftly. The constitutions of children are wonderful, they seem to bounce back after everything." His comment was aimed at Drake. I did not feel like a child. This man treated me as such.
Brutus returned with a pair of hares. As he started to skin them, the overpowering smell of blood made me nauseous. I stood up and worked my way around him to be up-wind, settling on a grassy patch.
Looking over at me Brutus invited me to join him in his work.
"Come, it is as good an opportunity as any to start learning the ways of the world. I bet you never had to skin your own dinner before."
Connor was not impressed with Brutus. "Leave the boy alone. He will learn when he is healed. Let him watch for now."
I really was not interested in making meat a part of my dinner, let alone skin the animals he had killed.
Strongclaw joined me, floating noiselessly from the heavens, making a perfect landing in my lap.
"Will he give me the inners?" he asked.
All three men turned to stare at the huge Raven on my lap.
Connor was the first one to ask a question.
"Does this bird belong to you?"
- Careful with your answer. -
"He is a friend. May he have the inners of the hares?" That should negate any suspicions.
"Yes, he can clean up for us. As long as he is quiet, we will appreciate his assistance."
I was glad Connor gave permission for Strongclaw to stay.
"They agreed that you may have it, as long as you keep quiet. Can you do that?" I whispered to the bird.
"Yes." He agreed before hopping off my lap, joining Brutus in the cleaning up of the bloody mess.
Needless to say, came dinner, I could not face the roasted hares and settled for an extra biscuit.
Connor looked worried about my lack of appetite. Brutus commented that I was full of nonsense and had never been hungry before.
Drake joined me later at the small stream we were camping at, waiting until I had finished freshening up.
Strongclaw had disappeared again. He was a wild bird after all and I did not expect him to stick around all the time.
"Why do you not want to eat meat? I am sure you used to get it all the time where you came from. It is the most nourishing food we have while travelling. Your teacher should have taught you that, and with your injuries, you need to keep your strength up."
"I do not feel like it" I answered him truthfully.
"And if there was nothing else to be had, will you then eat it?" he insisted.
"I will only allow my body what it needs." It was a straightforward, but abrupt answer. I suddenly knew that I would rather starve than put something into my body it did not wish to have. This knowledge unsettled me in a vague, unfamiliar way.
I turned away from Drake, avoiding eye contact. Looking over the stream to the woods on the other side, I ran my right hand over my short-cropped hair.
"Krish?" Drake asked softly.
I did not acknowledge the name he called me by. Stepping into the cold stream, I allowed the water to soothe my aching feet, wetting my pants.
"Krish, come out of the water" Drake requested in a friendly manner.
The stream was neither broad, nor swift, but had deep holes at places. These presented as darker areas in the fading light.
Suddenly Connor was standing besides Drake.
"Han, get out of the water right now!"
It was an order with a lot of authority behind it. I waded a few steps down stream before coming out. Walking past the two men, I kept my eyes down-cast.
At the fire, I wrapped myself in the ill-fitting cloak the Langlys had managed to spare and quickly slipped into sleep.
The new day greeted me with a movement inside my cloak. A groan, followed by a complaint that I was lying on a tail got me fully awake in no-time at all.
Strongclaw had managed to make a nest inside my cloak and had joined me in sleep.
We both stretched before he flew off. My other companions were already having tea and Drake offered some.
I declined, rather slaking my morning thirst at the stream.
Breakfast was left-overs from dinner. I took my share, which ended up in Strongclaw's stomach.
The rest of the day was basically a repeat of the previous. Connor picked up the pace a bit and I managed to keep up without too much effort, although it was difficult not to be able to use your lungs.
I started training myself to breathe by using my stomach muscles, instead of the ribcage.
In this way I quickly discovered that it was actually a better way of breathing. One did not need to have one's full lung capacity available. At least now I had learnt to breathe, even if someone was trying to crush my body.
We had a brief break for lunch before climbing yet another mountain range.
It was almost dark by the time we reached the pinnacle. I thanked the Universe that this mountain was not as high as the previous. The other side gave us a view of a flatter landscape, with many more plains and two rivers crossing it.
We did not stop to make camp, Connor leading us down the other side until we reached a small grove of trees. This grove was not one of the pine types that we had encountered thus far and was of a kind I did not know.
Strongclaw provided the answer by screaming "Walnuts!"
He flew over the tops of the trees a couple of times before settling on my shoulder.
"Riders coming from the front" he commented in a conversational tone of voice before resuming his hunt for the delicious nuts.
Riders meant people.
People meant possible enemies.
"Connor!" Drake called out to turn back our leader.
Connor turned to us, immediately concentrating on me. "What is the matter boy, you look as if you have seen a ghost."
Should I say there was someone coming?
I moved off the road, ready to disappear into the long grass next to the road between the trees, if the need to hide should arise.
"There are riders coming this way" I finally whispered.
Drake was nearest me and passed the message on. "Riders coming."
It was now my turn to be surprised by Connor.
"I know. I sent a courier pigeon from the Langlys requesting horses from Captain Brair. Stand tall lad, our rides will soon be here."
I stood up out of the grass. We did not have long to wait before hearing the thunder of hooves.
A small consignment of men and horses appeared from between the trees, trotting up the slight incline towards us. They stopped near us, allowing the dust to settle before the person in charge dismounted and walked over to us.
"Good day. I am Sergeant Swifft. Our orders are to escort you to Captain Brair. If you can keep the pace, we can make camp by midnight."
A red-headed lad, a few years older than me, brought four horses over.
Minding my ribs, Drake picked me up and placed me in the saddle of a chestnut mare. She had a kind face and long flaxen mane.
I held onto the saddle as if my life depended on it. It was a long way down to the ground.
The Horsemen sniggered at my discomfort. Drake shortened the stirrups so my bare feet could rest on them.
"Hold on if you have to" he instructed, "but try not to, the ride will be more comfortable. Balance your weight with your legs and feet. The reins will guide the horse. Left for left, right for right and pull on both for stop. You ready?"
I nodded. He mounted and took his position on my right side.
It was a very uncomfortable ride for me. The movement of the horse quickly brought fresh pain to every part of my body. My head felt torn open and my ribs ached with every bump.
*Flow with my movement.*
The friendly voice came through red waves of pain.
*Concentrate. Up, down, up, down. Stand, sit, stand, sit. It will make it easier on your body, and mine too.*
Wonderful. So I can understand and talk to Ravens, and now I know what a horse thinks.
I went with the movement, finding the rhythm easily and suitable to absorb most of the discomfort.
The other Horsemen watched me closely. They did not comment and the rest of the agonizing journey went quick enough.
We eventually entered an oak forest and slowed to a merciful walk.
In a short while we could see the glow of a fire and soon reached the camp Swifft had talked about. Here we joined the horse lines where men came forward to take the horses.
I lay across my mare's neck, stroking her. *Thank you* I thought at her.
*You are most welcome* she thought back.
Drake helped me off the horse. I could barely stand.
Connor joined us almost immediately, holding up a lantern to look at my face.
My nose was trickling blood again and Connor did not look happy.
"Take him to one of the tents" he ordered. "I will join you shortly."
I was so exhausted that Drake had to support me into a tent. He allowed me to sit down on a pallet before removing my upper garments. Connor and Brutus joined us shortly.
Brutus and Drake held me upright while Connor unwrapped my torso, exposing my broken ribs.
I had a look at the right side of my body. There was a dark purple bruise starting from under my arm, right down my ribs and to the back. Someone surely must have had a big boot to have done such damage.
Connor spread more of the stinking ointment over my battered ribs before bandaging me again. Wiping my face clean he asked Drake to stay with me through the night.
Brutus left with Connor. Drake tried his best to keep me awake, holding me upright and pinching my left arm whenever my eyes closed.
A little while later Brutus returned with medicated tea which I drank gratefully.
Only then was I allowed to finally lay my head down and sleep.
Strongclaw woke me before dawn. It did not feel as if I had much rest and my whole body ached.
The Raven was, once again, sleeping under my cloak against my chest. I stroked his feathers, reflecting that I was becoming very fond of the bird.
He complained, then opened an eye and waddled out from under the blanket.
Hopping onto my chest, he softly informed me that he wanted me to follow him outside.
My shirt and cloak were lying at my feet. I dressed while Strongclaw hopped from one foot to the next, anxious to get going.
I did not want to ask him any questions here. A Raven did not have much control over the volume of his voice and would wake the other sleeping forms in the tent.
Strongclaw effortlessly glided out of the tent. I could make out his dark form flying towards the greying dawn as I followed carefully to avoid detection.
Somehow, stealth came easily to me.
Sneaking past the guard at the eastern edge of camp, I found the bird waiting for me on a large rock.
He took off again, continuing towards dawn.
Following the Raven through the trees, we came to a small clearing.
The place was eerie, covered in a light mist that swirled around as I walked through it.
My skin crawled with anticipation. Something was about to happen.
"*Release your fear and concentrate on healing yourself.*"
I was not prepared for that strange voice that forced its icy energy right through my being.
It felt as if a huge hand forced me to the earth. It suddenly released me as I came down on all fours, leaving me surprised.
Straightening up brought me to a sitting position on my calves, my buttocks touching my heels.
Strongclaw had brought me here but was now nowhere in sight.
The mist was still swirling about me, pearling my cloak with moisture.
I removed my upper garments before struggling to undo Connor's bandaging.
Finally, inhaling freely, I checked the extent of healing on my ribs.
They were mending, but apparently not fast enough.
Finding this kneeling position comfortable, I breathed deeply with my hands in my lap.
As on the face of the cliff, I concentrated to allow Source Energy to flow into the top of my head and to all the injured areas.
My body soon felt warm all over. As if it was working exceptionally hard, it started to perspire, the sweat burning the still open gash in my head.
I felt at peace, as if nothing really mattered any longer. If I had to die right now, it would not concern me at all.
Strongclaw interrupted my peace with a noisy warning.
Brutus and Drake had tracked me here.
Bringing my attention back to my immediate surroundings, I found that I could clearly hear them coming through the forest.
They stopped at the edge of the clearing where Brutus stayed, his bow strung and ready to defend our position if threatened.
Drake walked up to me, making extra noise so as not to startle me. I kept on breathing deeply, listening to all the early morning noises, realizing that the forest was a very busy place.
Drake stopped at my left side and squatted down. He did not look at me directly, concentrating on the edge of the woods.
He spoke quietly to me. "Connor is greatly upset with you. He sent us to track you and bring you back to camp. Why did you steal away? You are going to get yourself into a heap of trouble."
I did not bother to answer him, instead sighing and stretching both arms above my head. My ribs felt a whole lot better and Drake took a closer look at me.
"Well, you are looking better. The purple is turning to green. You are mending quite fast!" he exclaimed.
I sighed again before putting my clothes back on, stuffing the bandages in the cloak's inner pocket.
"Is it wise to keep those off?" Drake wanted to know.
"I am more comfortable without them. I will be careful" I answered him in my childish voice.
I really hated this voice.
We returned to a bustling camp. They had already packed up, preparing to leave.
Drake led me over to one of the dampened fires. A plate of food had been placed on the ground, a mug of cold tea beside it.
"Breakfast. Sorry it is cold, but it took some time to pick up your tracks. You are quite good at hiding your trail" he added with some pride.
Taking it as a compliment, I started on breakfast, finishing the bread and cheese, passing the dried meat to Strongclaw that had materialized as soon as I sat down.
"What is it with you and that bird?" Brutus wanted to know, leading our horses over.
I simply smiled, allowing Strongclaw to finish the last of the crumbs on my plate.
Drake took the empty plate and cup from me, stashing it unwashed in his bag before helping me onto the mare I had ridden the day before.
*Morning* I greeted her, giving her a stroke on the neck.
*You may call me Bree* she answered back.
*Pleased to meet you Bree, I am Han*.
The other riders were moving off and she did not answer back, concentrating on her work.
We kept to a regular trot that ate the miles, taking us steadily through forests and over open plains. We took a short rest at midday, allowing the horses to drink deeply at a river on one of the plains.
The riders were constantly on the alert, prepared to fight. By nightfall we topped a hill and as we spilled over, we could see a town at the bottom of the gentle slope.
Wooden houses stood on raised rock foundations. Some of their roofs were combinations of grasses while some of the better buildings had tiles.
Swifft ordered a halt before we entered the town. We dismounted and the men took the horses to settle them for the night.
Connor indicated to me to follow him and Captain Brair to one of the larger buildings that served as an inn.
The inside of the two-roomed wooden building had a serving bar at the one end leading into a kitchen. Tables and bunks occupied most of the lower storey floor space. The establishment was not busy at the moment, so Brair took a seat at one of the tables near the entrance to the kitchen.
A fat man wearing an apron exited the entrance, his face lighting up into a crooked smile as he greeted us. Turning briefly back to the kitchen, he ordered food and drink before coming over to us, settling down on a stool across from Brair.
"I have been advised that you had a new mission. How may I be of service?" the balding Inn-keeper asked Brair, keeping his watery blue eyes glued on me. Reminding me of a weasel, I decided that I did not like this man.
"We need boarding for the night. I can pay you full price" Brair replied.
"As you wish. I will have rooms prepared for you" the Inn-keeper replied before lifting his bulk from the chair, waddling back into the kitchen.
Brair shoved his chin in my direction before addressing Connor. "He still looks a lot like himself. Is there any chance you can alter his appearance some more? Can he not at least wear his hood?"
Drake pulled the hood of my cloak up, dropping it over my head.
"Not much better, is it?" he asked the other people at the table.
I slid the hood back, it was far too large and I could not see.
Dinner was served and conversation was kept to a minimum.
The woman serving us did so with professional detachment, not looking at anyone in particular, rather concentrating on where she placed the dishes with thick vegetable soup, bread and slices of white cheese. I stashed some of the bread inside the cloak to give to Strongclaw before pecking at my portion of dinner.
Brair gave Connor an inquiring glance on this unusual act and as Connor mouthed 'pet', Brair smiled, his eyes twinkling. He must also have had pets before.
After dinner, Drake retired me to an upstairs room where a bath had been drawn. He insisted that I cleaned up properly, no matter how tired I was.
The wooden tub was not large enough to lie down in, so I had to settle for squatting. At least the water was hot and soothing.
Drake handed me a chunky bar of soap which I washed myself with. When I considered myself clean, he helped to rinse me down before handing me a coarse towel.
"You are making me uncomfortable" I told him in the boyish voice as he kept on staring at my thin body while I dried myself.
"Your ribs are mending well."
"But?" I encouraged him to continue while drying and then dressing myself in a clean shirt he had provided. It was far too big for me and would serve as a sleeping garment.
"You have lost a considerable amount of weight" he concluded.
There was no mirror in this room, so I could not confirm his observation. Pulling the one long sleeve up, I had a look at my right hand and wrist. One could perceive almost all the bones.
"Constant pain eats away at the flesh. The flesh will return when the body does not suffer any longer" I replied, my strange answer surprising both of us.
It was not the answer a boy would have given. Neither was it the answer of a grown man. It was a deduction only an accomplished healer would have come to.
Drake stared at me for so long that I climbed onto the bed. I told him good night before hiding under the blanket, laying there, listening to him removing the tub.
As soon as he had left the room I got up and opened the window for Strongclaw. The Raven would find me if he wanted to.
Copyright © H Gibson Chronicles of Han Storm. All rights reserved. 2009-2017
Purchase ebook or book via PayPal