IN WHICH Osmorn considers the important things in life and finds himself compelled to head in a new direction. He discovers his utter lack of proficiency in certain tasks.
I managed to scrape together at least a few scraps of food from what the rodents left, enough to not totally starve on the road for a little bit. But that did raise an interesting point, earlier than I had intended it. How was I going to feed myself? Also I needed a real tent. With a floor. And something to sleep in that wasn’t so communal.
Odd how things change in priority as you live life. I’d never really given food much thought either…
Okay, look. This story is going to get boring if I call out each time I realized that life was harder out in the world. I was a moon calf, you get it, I’ve admitted it, can I please stop admitting it over and over?
So, there I was, alone and without food. Still I stood, steely eyed, and headed north, toward the still putative town of Lightmere.
Okay I cried for 40 minutes while I walked. So sorry to disappoint you.
Sometimes that’s what you need, I guess. Once I had cleaned myself up and gotten back into walking…well, things didn’t exactly get better, but I got less annoyed by them. I was still tired, but I could handle that. I was uncomfortable, but moving made my muscles less resistant to moving. I was hungry, but food was not an impossible proposition.
In my mind I started looking at the things I needed so I wouldn’t die. I even made a fancy checklist. I didn’t write it down, but if I had it would have looked something like this:
Osmorn’s “Don’t Die” Checklist
- Good food
- A better drink than water
- A tent
- A job income
- A person to talk to besides myself
- Financial education
Nice to have
- A pillow
- A house
- The love of my lady Chaedi
Overall this looked very workable, with a few obvious exceptions. Water I already had, and I could hear a brook nearby, now that I knew what to listen for. Its the noisy thing that isn’t an animal, it turns out. But I was starting to gain some small smirch of woodcraft; I realized that leaving the path now was a very bad idea and I decided not to make any very bad choices just at the moment.
So now all I had to do was walk. I could do that. But it got dull. The path was clear and the day was fairly bright, so I tuned my lute and started playing as I walked.
None gathered around this table are of elvenkind, so I will ask, what do you know of elven songs? Very little? That is fair, the elves rarely share their songs with others. But those who have heard their music will tell you that the deeper and older melodies are haunting, deep, flowing, beautiful, and very, very sad.
Fortunately that was exactly how I was feeling at that moment. I let my fingers find the strings, and choose their own melody, just feeling the chords, the trills, the cadence and tones. Before long the music I was making settled into a groove that was well suited to my walking pace I started fitting words to that melody.
No, I don’t remember the words exactly, nor would I repeat them now even if I did. Some songs are meant to stand the test of time, to stir hearts all adown the centuries. And others are meant for but one specific place and time. The purpose of such a song isn’t to communicate that feeling to others, but rather to clarify it, crystalize it, to take a moment and let it into the wind and the world. This was the latter sort of song.
I’ll give you only one guess as to the main theme of my lyric.
I had been singing for miles now, tears streaming down my cheeks, and the music pouring freely from me when I heard footsteps behind me.
“Don’t stop now, songbird.” A rough male human voice said and suddenly there was sharp sensation against my spine, and a hand around my waist.
I stopped singing—the lyrics seemed to dry up on me all of a sudden—but I kept playing the lute. I hadn’t missed a beat and even managed to work an element of tension into my music.
“This is an odd way to show your appreciation for the craft,” I said, not turning my head.
“This is an odd place for an elf lordling to wander alone and unguarded.” The voice said.
“If you’re looking for a ransom you’re on the wrong path, sadly. I’m but half-elven and not beloved of my parents.”
“It’s funny how often lordlings say that. Keep walking, songbird. But we’re turning here.”
“Am I to keep playing while we walk off the path? I might miss my footing, or—even worse—miss a note.”
“You’re clever as well as musical. Do as you please. There’s nobody for miles, so you could create a whole new song just begging for help for all the good it would do you. Just keep walking.”
I did as I was bidden, and kept playing the lute. My song progressed from my somber ballad of lost love to a lighter tune, integrating the sunbeams and the slight spring winds. After a while the feeling of a dagger against my back disappeared, and my new “guide” seemed content to just keep his hand around my arm, but also kept himself behind me.
“How much farther are we going, sir?” I asked, trying to keep my tone light
“A fair ways, get used to walking.”
“I’m starting to. Do you really intend to try to ransom me? That would be amusing.”
“It’s not my place to say what happens to you, birdie.”
“Now really, ‘songbird’ I could live with but ‘birdie’ is going too far.” I protested. He laughed, and said no more for a while.
Generally you don’t play the lute for more than a few songs. I had nothing else to do so I kept playing. My fingers were feeling raw from strumming and holding the strings, but if I stopped now my assailant would have won…won what, I didn’t know. I felt that it would be a poor choice to stop. So I kept going. If I was going to stop playing it would be at his insistence or not at all.
“By the dragons! Don’t you elves ever tire of making music?”
“I told you, I’m but half-elven. And yes, I tired of it hours ago.”
“Then stop, blast you, enough is enough.”
I let my hands fall from the lute and walked in silence, frankly grateful. And also pleased that I had “won.” Again, not sure what I had won, but maybe I could figure that out later.
“Almost there now, at any rate,” he said.
“There” turned out to be a small camp, down in a quiet dell and covered over with a net, which itself was sprinkled with leaves and branches. Not a bad way to hide a camp, honestly. I hadn’t known it was there at any rate. Beneath the net the sunlight was patchy and thin, and the net also dispersed the smoke from their cooking fire, so that you would really have to be looking for it to find it. There were a few tents set up around the large tree that held the net, but nothing permanent.
Great, I told myself. More camping.
“Thomas, what have you brought us?” Asked a human sitting with her back against the tree, fashioning arrows with expert hands, quickly tying the feathers and then attaching the arrowheads. A crate at her side held the finished products, and was nearly full.
“I found this songbird walking alone on the road north, seemed he might make us a little money in between wars,” My captor said. Thomas. Huh. I got captured by a Tom.
Things degraded fairly quickly from that point.
“Are you in charge?” I asked the lady who was making arrows.
“At the moment,” she replied and looked at Thomas. “The Captain is away, said she’ll be back in three day’s time.”
Thomas grunted and pushed me forward.
“What are we supposed to do with him in the mean time?” He asked and the woman laughed.
“You’re the one that captured him, you didn’t think of that before grabbing him?”
“Look, I got the Captain’s message that the contract was off and to return to camp. I saw an opportunity for some cash along the way, so I struck while the iron was hot.”
“Nobody is doubting your entrepreneurial spirit, Thomas,” the woman said, standing up and walking toward me. She was close to my height, with dark brown eyes and full lips. Her hair was done up in two braids that met up behind her head and merged into a single braid falling down her back to the bottom of her shoulder blades.
“Well, let’s see what you captured, at any rate.”
“My lady, I assure you that I’m worth far more to you alive and free than dead or…captured.” I said and she nodded almost imperceptibly.
“We’ll see.” She said. She stood directly in front of me, looked me in the eye, then looked down at my face and clothing.
“Thomas, you know he’s a half-elf, right?”
“How do you know?”
“He’s starting a beard. Elves don’t grow beards.”
“Dragons take it,” Thomas swore.
“Hey, what’s wrong with half-elves?” I said.
“Silence, songbird,” Thomas interjected.
“Songbird?” The woman asked.
I reached for my lute and Thomas said “no, not yet, please. He only just stopped playing.”
The woman sat down and gestured for me to do the same. Not seeing a chair I seated myself on a log and stretched my legs gratefully.
“Okay, let’s get to the bottom of this. So, Sir half-elven, tell me who you are, and more importantly who will pay for you.”
I sighed. “I’m Osmorn, of no house, having only recently been exiled. Nobody who is aware of my departure would pay anything to get me back, unfortunately.”
“They always say that,” Thomas said and the woman smiled indulgently.
“We’ll see about that. Who is your father, Osmorn?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Your loyalty does you credit but this probably isn’t the time, all things considered.” She said.
“Oh it isn’t loyalty, my lady. I would sell him out in a moment if I could. But I’ve been put under a spell that prohibits me from speaking any part of his name.”
Thomas snorted derisively from where he was standing. “That’s a new one.”
“So you can’t speak your father’s name? Why not? ” She asked.
"Because he doesn’t want me spreading stories about his family.
“You mean your family?”
“One of the rumors he doesn’t want spread about is that I’m any part of his family.” I replied and she laughed.
“So, we’re expected to believe that you are magically cursed, and can’t tell us the name of the one person who might pay a ransom for you.”
“He wouldn’t, even if I could say his name. Not that he hates me. No that’s his wife’s job. I can tell you her first name, ironically.”
“And what good would that do me?” She asked.
“Have you ever heard of, or been to the Elf Haven of Rhys?” I asked, with small hope. Humans rarely if ever were allowed in.
“No, but perhaps the Captain has.” She said. Then she continued. “What else can you tell us that might convince us you aren’t a spy, or a valuable hostage?”
“This is an uncomfortable line to walk,” I commented.
“Life his hard,” she replied philosophically.
“Very well. I’m the illegitimate son of an elf lord and a human servant. My mother’s name is…perhaps was, Eleanor. I don’t know her family name, I don’t remember her personally at all. I was exiled because I fell in love with an elf maid whose family wasn’t at all willing to sanction our marriage.”
“People don’t get exiled for falling in love…” she said, smiling slightly.
“You’re wise, my lady. I’m sure you can connect the dots from falling in love to my exile on your own.”
“I’m sure I can,” she said and nodded for me to continue.
“At any rate, I was exiled yesterday. And now I’m wandering. I was told by a villager that I was on the right road for Lightmere, and that seemed as good a destination as any.”
Thomas laughed. “I guess that was the right road, but you’d have been on it for quite some time. A week at least.”
Meanwhile my lady captor—I would need to learn her name at some point—was looking at me intently.
“You don’t seem to be lying. Could you write the name of this elf lord father of yours? No? Look, I don’t mean to seem callous, but we’re here to make money and part of that for us is staying hidden. We can’t have you out telling people where we are, and unlike the elves we don’t have a way to guaranteed your good behavior. You seem to be a losing venture.”
“Not entirely,” Thomas said. I looked round at him. He had emptied my backpack and had my purse in his hand “looks like…twenty…thirty…forty gold, and a fair amount of silver. This is half a noble ransom in itself!”
“That’s mine!” I called out.
“It was,” he said, tossing my purse to the lady.
“Well, well, well, Osmorn no-house. It looks like you just bought yourself a continued existence, at least until the Captain gets back and decides what to do with you.”
“My life for all my money? I suppose it’s a reasonable price.” I said.
“But still, you will work and be useful. We don’t have the facilities to care for a spoiled noble here.” She said.
“I understand. I put myself entirely in your hands, my lady. But, if a humble self-bought slave may ask, what is the name of my captor?”
“Oh, very smooth. You may call me Ivy.”
“Which isn’t your name.”
She simply shrugged, tucking my purse into a satchel.
“And your captain? What’s her name?”
Ivy looked at me, holding my eyes for a long moment. “You ask a lot of questions for a captive.”
“How else will I learn anything?”
“Well, today you’re going to learn by doing. We need a new cot built and stretched, dinner made, and a few dozen more arrows fletched, and it’s only a few hours before nightfall.”
“I…wouldn’t know where to start on any of those tasks,” I said. Ivy just shrugged. It was a useful gesture for her.
“Thomas, your new recruit needs some training. See that dinner gets made, and that he has a place to sleep. Then I’ll teach him fletching,” Ivy said, and then headed towards the tents on the other side of the dell.
“Am I a captive or a recruit then?” I asked. Ivy shrugged and entered one of the tents.
Thomas approached me, and handed me my backpack. “I’m guessing you’ve never built a cot before, I get that. But you don’t cook either?”
“I used to bake, as a hobby. Got fairly good at it,” I said.
“Well, perhaps some other time you can teach us, but we’re on the move too much to build ovens. Come on, songbird. I’ll show you how camp cooking works, then we’ll lay out your bedroll.”
“I know this will sound terribly naïve, but what’s a bedroll?”
“You said you were exiled yesterday? What did you sleep on?”
“The ground. Well, a pile of leaves. And bugs. And rodents. I didn’t really sleep, I just kept the creatures company for a few dark hours.”
Thomas was laughing now.
“Do elves not use bedrolls?”
“True elves don’t really sleep like mortals; they rest, and their minds wander—literally—but they can have their eyes open and be somewhat aware of the world around them when they do it. And if they do so out in the forests, they generally sit up in the branches of a tree.”
“We have to sleep; we are mortal, after all. And we sleep laying down, eyes closed and so forth. No tree-limb balancing for us. But it seems my elf family forgot that fact when they exiled me.”
Thomas laughed. “So the songbird can’t sleep in trees.”
“Yes, very droll. Look, what are we doing first, cooking, or building a bed?”
“We’ll build the cot first, before we lose the light. Our food is perhaps not up to your nameless father’s standards, but it’ll keep you alive.”
“The rats ate my rations, so I’ll be glad of anything.” I said and Thomas laughed again.
“In some ways you’re lucky I captured you, you would have been dead in three days on your own.”
“Why not set me free and find out?” I said, following Thomas towards the edge of the dell.
“Yes, very droll,” Thomas said, in a terrible imitation of my voice.
Thomas turned out to be a surprisingly apt teacher. Making a cot isn’t hard. Well, I think that now. It’s a few pieces of wood lashed together for strength and then a canvas stretched across the top. The secret, it turns out, is not to hit your thumb with the hammer any more than absolutely necessary. I complained that this damage to my hands might ruin my lute playing and Thomas remarked that a few days off might be just what his ears needed. I asked why they weren’t chaining me and he remarked that my ignorance was a better deterrent than any chain ever forged. And between the clever remarks he showed me what to look for and what to strive for when preparing yourself a sleeping place that is above the ground but still stable enough for a mortal.
He then showed me how to cook rough and ready camp food. He seemed a little apologetic that the fare was simple and cooked the most basic way possible, but he explained that he wasn’t formally the camp chef.
“Then why are you doing the cooking?”
“Everyone needs to know how to do everything,” he said philosophically.
And after that I made arrows. This at least was a task to which I was suited. Nimble fingers are good at fletching, and I could do it sitting down, without dismembering wildlife and putting it in a stewpot.
I realize it sounds idyllic now; to sit quietly, cook, make camp, do simple pleasant work. At the time I didn’t know this was simple pleasant work. I considered myself to be in durance vile, captured by people who seemed ready to kill me should I become inconvenient in any way. I had learned long since that showing fear when you are afraid is the worst possible idea, so I kept my tone light, I asked simple questions, ate without comment (Thomas was a terrible cook, you have no idea), and went to bed, spreading my cloak over myself and using a bundle of soft clothing as a pillow.
The cot, it turns out, is a wonderful invention. It’s not as nice as, say, Chaedi’s bed, of course, but it’s far better than a vermin-infested leaf pile. I found myself tired enough to drift off to sleep fairly quickly.
And awoke in terror and confusion a few hours later when the cot collapsed under me with a bang.
“Told you those bindings weren’t tight enough,” Thomas called from his tent.