Shadows of the Ancient Wood

Dalen Woodland, Morning of 2 DSTR –

Hearing the question about his father caused Lafayette to shrug again, "He provided a house for ten years of my life and was never there. Mistreated my mother and left her and I to die. If that is what a father does then, yes he was my 'father'. I trained hard and was put in charge of a trading charter." he explained. "I believe it is a self imposed ideal of not wanting to end up like that man."

"Hmm, well at least you knew him. I never knew mine," Kalena murmured under her breath.

"I don't know much about pre-flavoring tea with oranges." Lafayette commented. "We tend to zest anything we can fresh."

"Well as I understood it, the tea is flavoured with the oil from the rind of the orange," she replied knowledgeably. "I'm something of a connoisseur of teas, and their different properties."

After repacking the case tight and latching it with a heavy thump of the locks, attaching the straps, and wrapping the case in the old cloth Lafayette stood with a grunt, needing to balance himself. "Let us take a look at those horses, shall we."

“We can walk the horses,” Kline said as if the idea were clear, and he was expecting to be followed. “You put your box on one, if we are walking through brush I do not need you making a racket with that thing.” He pointed to the box on Lafayette’s back. He walked to the horses looking for the largest of them. “I am sure my men are well, I just hope they have something warm to drink by the time we get there.”

“I just had the most wonderful cup of tea. I'm sure that Lafayette would offer you some too, if you were nice,” Kalena added, amused by the mild hostility that ran between the two men.

Kline stroked the side of the largest horse’s neck, a chestnut brown from head to hoof with a black mane and tail, the nose was patched with the same black color. Kalena smiled. She noticed the horses were all of surprisingly good breeding. Not quite as extraordinary as the champion war and racing horses that she trained and bred, but excellent nonetheless. She knew a dealer in the capital who would pay good money for them, which could further help Kline settle his accounts and keep him from going insolvent. In the meantime she had plenty of room to house them in her large stables.

“That one is mostly black,” she said, pointing out one to Lafayette. She saw the big horse Kline had taken a liking to would also suit him well.

“We were supposed to be in the city this morning,” Kline said. “I was looking forward to sausage and potatoes, but I will have to settle with weak coffee.”

“Potatoes and sausage?” Kalena said, making a face. “I was going to treat you all to better fare than that, but if that is what you have your heart set on my cook can make it for you. He is very skilled, though he may not be up to Lafayette's culinary standards,” she said, glancing at the red-haired foreigner who came from a land where food was taken very seriously.

In a tree overhead a solitary crow stopped and barked at them. It seemed to be waiting for something. The bird was large, hints of blue in the feathers and it watched them, Kalena most of all, watched perched in a branch of the old trees around them.

She stared up at it curiously for a moment. As they led the horses in file carefully along the narrow and meandering deer trail they had followed during the night, she watched the crow keeping a head of them, barking at them as they seemed to stray off course. “It seems we've been provided with a guide,” she observed with pleasure. “That was very thoughtful of Glumy, if he's to be credited...”

And a guide was very welcomed. Kalena looked around at the press of ancient shadowy trees closing in around her, distorting the perception of distance and blotting out the ordinary world of man they all knew. She decided Kline's earlier confidence in her woods skill might have been a bit misplaced. She was certain that she eventually would have been able to get them back to the road, but it would have likely taken far longer than she originally anticipated, as she sensed these were no ordinary woods. The thick, hoary, old-growth forest might have been an extremely ancient one. Perhaps among the very first primeval life to spring out of chaos, something that may well have compelled the faeries to congregate here, where their magic and spells would be at their strongest.

Finally, she glimpsed the full light of dawn breaking through the trees ahead where the road lay, causing her to look up and smile in thanks at the crow.

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