It was warm and green with the smell of hyslip in the air. It was so comfortable lying on the soft grass with the bucolic sounds quietly hanging in the air. This was my favorite spot behind a small knoll at the edge of Rahman’s fields. I could enjoy Argea’s forest and still feel the life of the Enclave from here. I did not hate farms or farmers. How could I? Farms fed my friends and family. Farmers were honest hard-working folk who broke their backs and hands to put food on the tables of the Enclave. What I hate is farming. The routine day after day of tiling the soil, milking cows, mending fences, sharpening tools and on and on. There
was no mystery: a farmer could see his whole world surrounded by a fence from the cradle to his grave. The forest though was a world to be discovered. This did not mean it was a wild frolic dancing in a blue-green pool. In a day, I could sit in a blind to kill a deer. Another hour and I could have a bag of tubers and herbs. A day’s work and I could feed five for a week.
A day sitting in a blind at one with the Wild: no bigger than a farmer’s field but no fence, no cows, no plow. How can an hour watching ants cross a stream to go to war compare to an hour sharpening a scythe?
On the soft grass watching the clouds roll by was the way to live. “Wake up. Wake up, Janarl.” I heard a calming voice say. It was Glanconer. I was not on the soft grass by Rahman’s farm. I was in the stinking jungle of Divinity with only a couple of hours of sleep. The happiness of my dream slipped away as I stood up and adjusted my armour and put on my weapons. It was three days in this fetid jungle since I had left the Companions. I had three long days to think about my friends and my brief but intense time with them. My new companion was certainly not distracting me from my solitude even when he was with me. His directions to this new Enclave had been short and sharp and always without prompting. He was rarely with me at day’s end when I finally decided to succumb to a few hours of tortured sleep.
I continued on my route slowly and painfully moving through the jungle. This wet and savage mess was nothing like the jungles of home: too wet to walk, too much garbage to swim. I could not shake the memory of my dream. I could not even chastise myself for daydreaming.
I flashed back to a day one autumn with my father in the forest to the North. He was a farmer indeed but a T’Kel hunter of merit nonetheless. I could barely walk but he and I were stalking a deer. A rite of passage, he called it. The air was cold and sharp but the leaves were still on the trees even though they were turning red. Suddenly, Father put up his hand and dropped to one knee. I stopped and held my breath as I too went on one knee. It was all brown and red and green. Why had he stopped? I heard the twigs break first. Then I saw it: a beautiful tawny brown deer. She was looking right at me as my father rose and shot his bow. The moment stopped. I could see the arrow hanging mid-air. My father was reaching for the next arrow from his quiver. The deer was poised to run. The leaves were blowing across the clearing. Every detail of that scene are still with me to this day: the light, the smells, the sounds. As I finally drew a breath, the scene exploded. My father was running with his bow drawn and the deer was in full flight. In full flight – for three steps before crashing to the ground. “Well my boy, it was a bit of a tough shot but it worked well enough. Between the ribs and into the heart. She will die but it looks like she will suffer if we do nothing. That is not our way. Here take my knife while I hold her” Hold her! She was kicking and her eyes that were so brown a few seconds ago were wild and white. He grabbed an antler and a leg and lay on top of her. The strength he used to hold her down! “Come over here now Janarl”, he grunted. “Quickly, we must end her suffering. You must cut her throat while I hold her. Be strong and bold. Pull it across her throat right here and do it now!” I looked at his knife and did as he asked. Her blood poured out on the knife, my hands and on to the ground. “Well done, Janarl! You are a natural. Cows will be easy after that. Ha, well done. Look, she has already stopped kicking. My boy, this was a hard root to chew and I am sure it was hard on you but it was necessary. Our people have caused so much suffering before Zuras that we can never be forgiven. Like a bear, we will kill and eat this animal but without cruelty or waste. Remember, consider every action you take with care. But once you decide to act, do not hesitate. Do you understand?” Surprisingly, I think I did. We spent the morning butchering that deer and making our way home. I was so happy that day.
I must have delayed for less than a heartbeat after I registered the noise to my left. I saw the flash of the blade as my attacker leapt at me. My daydream faded away in an instant as Woodclaw emerged from my arm. The rili fae stabbed at me and his wicked blade found the seam in my armour. I staggered backward as I struck him down across the side of his neck. A rili fae attacking alone in a swamp in the daytime – this is a place of madness! It did not matter to my bleeding wound. I undid my armour quickly and called on the Wild for healing to stop the bleeding. I quickly moved on to avoid any more of his ilk. I stumbled and slogged forward without focus for a time I could not recall.
Quickly the ground became firmer and Glanconer stepped out from behind a tree. “You have made it finally. The Enclave awaits!” I stepped past the trees and into a clearing. There was a ragged group of rough shelters and a trivial barricade. The T’Kel at the barricade saw me instantly and raised their weapons. I raised my bow over my head and walked toward them. Everyone was emerging from their shelters and all weapons were pointed at me. There was only twenty of them at most. One of the men climbed over the barricade and looked at me with a hard stare. It was Ezuras. I walked to the front of the barricade, I threw down my bow and said, “Hail! I am Janarl of the Jaguar Clan, son of Banwel and former Companion of the Eye. I come in peace. I seek to join this Enclave and pledge my bow to your cause.”
I crouched with the palms of my hands on Sentar. He placed his hands on the ground “May the strength of Sentar remain with us.” He picked up my bow and handed it to me. “Welcome, cousin. May the strength of the Wild flow through you and protect us.”
Again, my focus shifted to my youth. Everyday was a struggle to finish my chores as fast as possible so I could run in the woods. One day among many in the Spring, I fought through all of the tasks my father and uncle had given me. I did it all before mid-day and ran away before they could find more. I ran to the stream and ate berries and a wild onion while watching the fish jump. I was dozing off when I heard a muffled scream. I awoke with a start and ran towards it. I saw a kobold dragging a girl. Lone kobold raiders of children were rare but not unheard of. I scanned around for others and could see none. I jumped him without flair and grabbed for his knife. My heroic intentions collapsed under my utter lack of skill. While I struggled with him and his knife, the girl clubbed him with a stick making him drop it. The kobold threw me down and cuffed her with the back of his hand. When I jumped at him as he tried to recover his knife, he grabbed a rock and then all I saw was white. The next I remember, I was chasing him off with my knife in my hand. I turned back and saw the girl right behind me still with the stick in her hand. We retreated out of the woods and over a fence into a wheat farm. “Thank you for helping me. That kobold grabbed me while I was washing linens by the stream, that cowardly beast. Are you hurt?” “No, a few scratches, but I am fine. Your head is bleeding.” She pressed a white linen against my temple and said, “Thank you for saving me. My name is Rana of the Wolf Clan. Ah, there is my father now,” she said indicating the T’Kel running across the field. He approached out of breath and grabbed her and held her against him. “By Zuras, you are alright! We found your basket and one kobold footprint and now the village is going crazy.” I knew him by his mask – Pontijas. He was the head of his tribe and a successful rancher.
“Father, this boy saved me from the kobold with no thought of his own safety. Look, he is wounded and his mask is damaged. The cowardly kobold ran from us like a rabbit.”
“Well my boy. Well met. My family and clan are in your debt. What is your name?”
“I am Janarl of the Jaguar, son of Banwel of the Raven Clan.”
“I know your father, Janarl. A good man and clearly his son is a brave boy. Come let’s clean your wound and have some food.”
After I climbed over the barricade, Ezuras took me to a tent in the centre of the camp. He held back the flap and ushered me inside. Mother! Sitting there mixing herbs was my mother just as I had left her a month ago. She smiled and rose and hugged me like an ogre. “My son! You return in one piece. No, you return greater than you left. A warrior and a great hunter. By the Wild, our prayers have been answered by not just returning you but by delivering that which we need the most right now. We should sit and talk of your travels and the fate of the Spear but unless he is striding in on the back of a fire giant to scourge our enemies before supper, other issues are more pressing. Night is stalking us now and will put us in her net in an hour. Then her vile children will be hungry. We have not yet fed y