Cedenia: Blood and Steel
Chakalia Origin – Part I
The falcon’s sharp cry pierced the air and brought her out of her reverie. Looking up at the almost white, overcast sky, Chakalia saw the dark spot circling and coming toward her. Her hazel-green eyes stung at the light. Squinting, she brushed her long, dark brown hair out of her eyes and watched the falcon return. Its sharp talons gripped the thick, cowhide gauntlet as it lit upon her wrist. The huge raptor looked even larger perched on her small frame. Surprisingly strong for her size, Chakalia’s arm held fast against the additional weight.
“Well done,” her uncle told her, as he observed the training’s progress. “She’ll be ready soon.”
Smiling, Chakalia answered, “Thank you Uncle Sargon. I’ve really enjoyed working with this one.”
“That’s enough for today – time for dinner soon,” Sargon noted, as he began collecting their gear. A well-dressed man with noble bearing, he looked younger than his fifty-some years. The dark colors of his tabard and bliaud enhanced his wavy, salt-and-pepper hair.
He waved to the servant to ready their horses to return to the house. He had noticed his niece becoming more and more thoughtful of late. He felt he knew just the thing to bring her out of her mood. At dinner, he would reveal to the rest of the clan that he would let Chakalia come along with the rest of the group to the festival in Sinaris.
The simple fact was he had nothing left to teach her. She was a gifted pupil, and already well-skilled in hunting with or without a raptor. He knew she was bored, but too kind and loyal to say anything. Even though the Serja clan was well known for falconry, she was one of the most-skilled members living.
“I have a surprise for you,” he began on their short ride home. The sudden sparkle in her eyes reminded him how long it’d been since he’d seen her truly interested in anything.
“You do? What is it, Uncle Sargon?” Chakalia asked.
“I’ll announce it officially over dinner this evening, but I thought you might be interested in joining us at the festival this year.”
“Uncle Sargon!” she practically fell off her horse trying to give him a hug. “I can’t believe it! It’s only every five years!” The fair was essential for any professional armor crafter. Although the Serjian clan had not pursued the profession for as many generations as they had falconry, they were a well-established name in such circles.
Suddenly her face fell, and before she could ask, Sargon assured her, “I’ve already discussed it with your aunt. It’s all arranged.”
And so Chakalia found herself riding along the small trade route, thrilled to be journeying to a far-away city. It had been over a week since they’d left, and though she was now more used to sleeping on the ground, one night she woke when it was quite dark. She didn’t know why but she felt compelled to check on her horse. Knowing it was silly, she moved as quietly as possible to avoid waking anyone else in the camp. He seemed restless, and she decided to quickly water him before going back to sleep.
Looking back, she realized it was when the servant on watch stopped snoring that she felt ill at ease. It was all she could do to jump on her horse before he bolted away from the camp. She could hear shouts and disorder behind her, and the growling of strange creatures. It was a blur to her as she was just as afraid of the high-speed ride through the forest. Her terrified mount had no idea where he was going, and the sliver of moon gave little light on the zigzag course he took.
Chakalia managed to keep her head down, and received only minor cuts and scraps from brush and low-hanging branches. When she could no longer hear the camp, she began to slow down her mount.
She waited until it was only an hour before first light. Slowly, she started back toward the camp, walking in front of her horse. She stopped occasionally to listen carefully, before continuing.
She safely reached the camp site before dawn. The place was a mess, with items strewn about the area. Chakalia searched the tents and the rest of the site, but only found two bodies; those of the servants Primo and Secundo Rougechemise. She examined them quickly, and determined she would not be able to revive them.
Most of the supplies had been taken. She did retrieve her travelling bag, and was able to salvage most items. She decided to head back home to get help, having no idea where the nearest town would be, or how to survive in the wilderness alone. She was glad she at least knew how to hunt and forage – she wouldn’t have to go hungry while on the way back. She thought she could find her way back…
It had been three days and anxious nights but it felt like thirty. Chakalia did her best, but more and more it appeared her worst fear had come true. She did not know the way back home, and in fact had no idea where she was.
She was sitting by a small stream, fretting what to do as she salted some rabbit meat to be eaten later. Chakalia was so absorbed in her dilemma that it was her horse’s nickering and whinnying that roused her. Standing before her, on the other side of the stream, was a large, cloaked figure.
Chakalia was just as much shocked as afraid. How did this behemoth creature approach without her knowledge? She was too startled to even scream.
“I sense your fear,” a deep voice from the figure began. “I am Peaux, and I mean you no harm.”
Finally able to find her voice, Chakalia coughed a few times, and managed, “Hello,” rather tentatively.
“You are in some kind of distress, yes?” asked Peaux.
“Um, well, yeah. Yeah, I’m pretty distressed,” confessed Chakalia. Her shoulders dropping in shame, “I’m lost.”
“That would explain your rather circuitous path,” remarked Peaux, nodding. “Where is it you would like to go? I will help you get there.”
“I’m from Serja, and I know it’s a village about halfway between Grennis and the mountains, because I always hear uncle and my kinsmen tell others that.” Bowing her head in further embarrassment, she added, “but I have no idea what that means.”
“That should be sufficient for our purposes, young one. Do you live along any kind of trade route?” asked Peaux. “Yes! Yes, we do!” Chakalia began to brighten, and for the first time in many days, felt hopeful again.
“You do not travel much, I take it.” With Peaux, it was more of a statement than a question.
“Well, no, I don’t. Mostly I’m close to home…” her voice trailed off as she pondered the fate of her kinsmen. Looking away, Chakalia tried not to cry in front of this stranger.
“You are aware of other races though, correct?” queried Peaux. “Dwarves, gnomes, and the like?”
“Oh yes,” Chakalia began, turning back toward Peaux. “We – aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!” she shrieked at the sudden sight of Peaux, now removing the hood from his cloak. Having lost her balance, she pitched sideways from her perch on the big rock. “Whooooaaaaaah!” Chakalia exclaimed, as she fell to the ground.
Scrambling backward, gasping in shock, she blurted, “Wha, what are you?!”
Peaux sighed, and answered, “I’m human, of course.” He did not look human, at least, not in the traditional sense. He was quite large; at least six feet tall, and rather heavy. His skin was covered with dense, black and white fur.
However, he did talk, and walk on two legs. Also, he seemed to have opposable thumbs and three fingers on each “hand.”
Recovering, Chakalia fumbled to a stand and brushed herself off. “Oh,” was all she could think to say. “Uh, sorry I yelled,” she added, clearing her throat.
“I expected someone who travels so little might be surprised; it is no matter,” replied Peaux. She realized it was hard to tell what Peaux’s expressions were, and decided to take his statement at face value. After all, if he really meant to do her harm, he certainly could have done so.
And so Chakalia was now en route to home, with Peaux’s assistance. Although she sensed Peaux was a man of few words, being naturally curious she preferred to chat along their way. She learned a great deal about Peaux’s people in the mountains, and now knew that helping her was part of a rite of passage for him. As interesting as it was to learn about the Hokas people, she was just glad to be on her way home.
Most likely as an effort to make her feel more secure, Peaux sketched a small diagram of the area they were in. He explained the scale, and though she couldn’t understand a traditional map, it had enough markings that she was able to track their progress on the drawing he made. She knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west, but after that it was pretty confusing. At least twice a day she’d be able to get her bearings, if lost again.
Peaux did seem impressed with her hunting and tracking abilities, and was very interested in the family’s business of falconry; there was nothing like it in his homeland.
“…so the birds you ‘train’ – they do not speak?” queried Peaux on a mild, sunny afternoon, as the rode along a small trail. His horse was much larger than Chakalia’s, and seemed to handle Peaux’s weight well.
“Well, no,” she replied. “They’re just birds.” She didn’t really know how else to explain it. This segued into a rather long discussion regarding the actual training, which Chakalia suspected made Peaux somehow uncomfortable. Of course, she’d never met a man who looked more like a bear before, so clearly she had much to learn as well.
“So in theory, this technique of yours would not only work on birds,” Peaux was asking. Chakalia realized she’d never thought about this before.
“I don’t know,” she began. “I suppose it’s possible; though it wouldn’t work well with a horse, for example. They’re not natural hunters; more of a support class. It has to be a creature that hunts for itself anyway.”
“So, what about a wolf?” asked Peaux. Had she been more familiar with his expressions, she might have noticed a very small smile as he spoke.
“I guess,” answered Chakalia. “I mean, you’d have to start with a very young one, like we do with raptors.”
“Then I believe we have the makings of an experiment. I sense young wolves nearby.” Chakalia had always meant to ask Peaux just how he’d sensed this, but it was soon enough they found two small, furry creatures.
“Their fur is so soft!” she said gently, gingerly picking one up. “They are not more than two months old, I believe,” observed Peaux. They reminded her of puppies she’d seen when she was younger. Their eyes were open, but they were still quite wobbly. They both had black fur, with bits of dark brown highlights. She named them Awan and Kish, after two of her favorite cousins.
They were quite hungry, which helped the training process. Chakalia did not realize how attached to them she was becoming, or for that matter, how close to Peaux she had grown.
They were sitting at the campfire when he told her. It wasn’t quite dark; perhaps they made camp early just so they could discuss it.
“We are being followed,” he began in his simple manner. Fully engrossed in playing with the pups, Chakalia replied, “What?”
“We are being followed,” he repeated. “I wanted to wait until I was sure. Also, I believe we are being followed by a small group – from the larger group that originally attacked your party.”
He had her full attention now. Momentarily, she froze. “What do we do?” she finally asked, looking around anxiously.
“I believe we may wish to alter our course. I believe they have followed us for the express purpose of attacking the rest of your clan.”
“And I’m leading them right to them!” she said, horrified. “We’ll have to turn back!” Her mind reeling, she said, “But where can we go?” more to herself than to him.
“I believe my clansmen will protect us,” answered Peaux. “These rag-tag ruffians are a bother to the two of us, but no match for our fierce warriors.”
“But what about your journey? Will you still get credit for helping me?” asked Chakalia. She did not see the small smile on Peaux’s face; he was pleased she cared so much about his objective.
“That is no matter – and staying alive is something that is important to both of us,” Peaux answered with a gentle dryness.
“I guess I’ll get to see your people then,” said Chakalia hopefully. He could not get over her curiosity and general enthusiasm. She did seem to bounce back well.
Peaux was careful not to alter their course too much too soon; he did not want to give their pursuers any reason to be suspicious.
By the time they neared Peaux’s mountain homeland, the wolf pups were much larger. Both Awan and Kish adapted well to Chakalia’s training, though they each excelled in different areas. Awan would be a fierce fighter, she could tell. Kish had superior tracking; his sense of smell was nothing short of phenomenal to her. Even at their young age, they were coming along nicely. Chakalia couldn’t believe no one had thought of training wolves before.
She was glad she’d spent so much time with Peaux. Otherwise, she would have gaped at the village of bear-people (as she thought of it). But just like Peaux, they all spoke, walked on two legs, and had opposable thumbs. She was very pleased with herself that she knew as much as she did about their culture.
The village was large enough for her to seek out a few merchants. Trade was something she grew up with, and understood. She hoped to find additional clothing; many of her belongings were taken in the attack, leaving her with what was left of her traveling pack. Her small trunk of clothes had been ruined, and most usable supplies stolen.
She wasn’t looking for armor, but one of the merchants suggested she visit the blacksmith, so she did. He took one look at her and laughed, saying, “I know why they sent you here.” He was much jollier than Peaux, she noticed. He held up a furry hand, and gestured for her to wait. He emerged from a back room with a suit of leather armor. “I believe this will fit you perfectly,” he said, still chuckling to himself.
And so it did; when she asked for whom he’d originally made the set, he just waved and said it was a story for another time. It was made with a fine, black leather, with lots of metal ornamentation. The most interesting of which was a full set of daggers, placed strategically on the legs and arms.
“They come with the suit,” said the smith, as she removed one from its sheath it get a closer look. “It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was Peaux’s friend, or the smith was naturally generous. Chakalia was able to purchase the suit for a fraction of what her family would have sold it for at the fair. However, the smith did say it wasn’t complete; she gathered that several additional pieces of metal would later be added. “I’ll finish it for you when you come back,” he said with a mischievous grin.
Refreshed and reinforced from a brief stay in Hokas’ territory, they set out again; Peaux in the lead, Chakalia next, with Awan and Kish zigzagging behind.
They didn’t worry about the menacing thugs who’d been following them. The ruffians had been dealt with by a well-placed patrol; Peaux and Chakalia weren’t even near the skirmish. There were no survivors to question.
What they didn’t know was that a scout had left the villain’s party, and was not a casualty of the Hokas patrol. Neither did they know this particular scout was able to produce reinforcements.
Therefore, a few days into their journey, Chakalia and Peaux found themselves ambushed by the scout and the three orc mercenaries he’d been able to hire.
Their enemies waited until they’d dismounted for a brief rest to attack. Two orcs charged Peaux, as a third rushed toward Chakalia. He fell quickly, an arrow lodged deeply in his neck. Chakalia suddenly wished she’d taught the pups how to hide, and realized it had never occurred to her before. She cried out in agony as a small blade left the scout’s hand and burrowed deep in Kish’s fur, “No!” – but it was too late. The young wolf lay still.
Enraged, she sent a volley that even the plucky scout did not anticipate. Howling in pain, he reached for a sword and began to charge.
Meanwhile, Peaux was handling the two orcs quite well. Surprisingly nimble for his size, he fought with expert timing. In fact, it was a little bit frightening; he was as fast as lightning.
Biff! His left foot connected solidly with the jaw of the first orc, who crumpled to the ground. Pow! His right forearm blocked a punch and he swung with his left. Ske-doosh! The second orc bounced off Peaux’s generously-sized belly, stunned by the blow.
Just then Peaux looked up to see Chakalia’s arrow pierce the scout’s right eye – it was just in time, as he had almost reached her. He saw her say, “Look out!” but it was too late. The second orc had plunged a dagger deep into his back. Peaux dropped to his knees, fighting to breathe.
Zing! He heard the arrow above him and the thunk! it made as it hit the second orc, causing him to stumble backward and lie still. That orc would not be stabbing anyone else in the back.
Chakalia rushed to Peaux, leaning him against her. “Peaux!” she said crying. She knew from the extent of his injuries she could not save him.
“Once again, I have not completed my objective,” Peaux tried to say with humor. Chakalia wept even more, her head against his fur.
“I love you, Peaux,” she sobbed. “I love you, t – “ whispered Peaux, before going slack against Chakalia. Chakalia focused on saving Awan; he had been injured in the skirmish but she was able to help him. One thing she did know how to do was remove arrows, and provided the wound was not too great, stitch up the torn flesh.
She grew overprotective of him then, and knew she would never be able to hunt with him. When they were befriended by a lone homesteader, she knew he’d be safe if she left him there. It felt as though it was destroying what was left of her heart, but even worse was the thought of watching him die horribly, too.
She would seek out these mysterious marauders, the bane of her existence. She would not stop until she found out who they were, what they wanted, and how she could save her kin. She set out with purpose. This time, she would not get lost. This time, she would get even.
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