Lante’lei – Falling Home

“Get this thing out of me!”, Desdra screamed at the midwife attending her. Despite all their efforts to make the birthing chamber calm and cool, Desedra was anything but. She’d been in labor for 13 hours and was ready to have this child out of her belly.

The midwife tried to calm her, “Peace Desdra. It’s almost over. Your baby is near now”

“Fodder with peace!” Desdra snarled. Then she looked at her husband with a sneer, “And fodder with you too!”

Leelan had been through this twice with her before and knew better than to take her anger to heart. He nodded seriously at her, and made sure he was out of arms reach this time.

The midwife placed her hand on Desdra’s extended abdomen and said softly, “Ok, Desdra. Your child is coming now. We’re near the end. Just one last push.” Desdra looked at her and nodded, a desperate plea in her eyes that it really was the last push.

Desdra arched her back and screamed through clenched teeth as her body took control and contracted. She pressed down with her tired sore muscles, tears running down her cheeks with the pain of the long effort. Then she felt the release of the pressure as her child entered the world. She collapsed back on the birthing bed, panting from her efforts.

Leelan moved to his wife’s side again, stroking her face and whispering softly to her. “It’s over now, my dear. You can rest. That’s it. Breathe slowly. Good. That’s my girl.” Desdra smiled up at him weakly, remembering her love for him now that the pain was finally over.

The Kiran priestess moved up next to the midwife and looked over her shoulder. “A girl.” She said softly, looking at Leelan. “Prima?” she asked, even though the look on his face told the tale.

“No. She is second.” Leelan replied with resignation, but no sadness in his voice. The priestess nodded and accepted the baby from the midwife. She turned and carried it over to where two acolytes were waiting for her.

The baby was crying as all newborns do, but the priestess and her helpers tried to soothe her with calm words and gentle touches. They wiped the child clean and wrapped her in soft white cloth. One of the acolytes had a small soft bulb which she stuck into the child’s mouth to pacify her. The baby girl sucked on it and quieted.

When they were done cleaning and wrapping the child, they carried her over to the edge of the birthing chamber. As they walked, they sang soft songs thanking Kira, the goddess of life, for this new child and asking that she take her and use her to strengthen the trees and support the village. Reaching the edge of the platform, one of the acolytes looked down. The lower branches of the great tree obscured the ground which she new was hundreds of feet below.

They placed the child gently and lovingly into a small basket of woven branches and leaves. The baby was still sucking on the bulb and lay quietly with her eyes closed. The priestess said a final prayer to Kira and kissed the baby on the forehead, then swung the basket out over the edge. The two acolytes had a firm grip on the long rope attached to the basket and began lowering it as soon as it was free of the platform.

The priestess’ first job was done; so she turned from the edge, allowing her assistants to lower the child to the root where her body’s life essence would nourish the tree and therefore the entire village. She walked calmly back to Desdra to see if the woman needed tending to.

The acolytes continued to sing hymns of praise to Kira as they handled the final service to this girl child, and their village, with care and reverence. About halfway down, the bulb fell out of the baby’s mouth and she began to cry. The older of the two acolytes silently prayed to Kira that the ceremony would end with the soft feel of the basket on the forest floor and not the hard jerk that indicated one of the many predators below had heard the cry and knew what it meant.

Down below, a male tuskcat heard the cries, and did know what it meant. He was an old cat, his sleek black fir starting to be tipped with silver. He wasn’t as fast as the younger cats, but his experience helped him in ways that their physical abilities didn’t. He curled his eight foot long body around the base of the tree twice, then pinpointing where the cry was coming from, he crouched down in the brush, waiting and watching.

Finally the basket pierced the leaves on the lowest branches of the tree. The tuskcat tensed in anticipation, his hind quarters gathered under him for a leap at the basket and the crying baby. He breathed in quietly, the scent wafting down on the breeze confirming what his ears and experience told him was in the basket. While the basket was still 6 meters off the ground, the great cat leapt.

As he rose to meet the descending container, he felt two sharp pains in his right side. He twisted wildly as he missed the basket and tried to land on his feet. When he reached the ground again, his right front leg collapsed under him, causing his head to bounce painfully off the forest floor. He paused for a moment, dazed and confused.

“Aaiiiieeee!” shouted Kori as she jumped over a fallen branch and came down toward the cat, her long bladed spear poised for a killing blow. But the cat hadn’t lived so long that his instincts were dulled. Despite the haze covering his vision and his disorientation from the fall, he managed to twist around and avoid the elf maiden’s attack.

Kori landed and spun around to face the cat. Missing that first blow was dangerous, but she hoped that the two arrows buried deep in his chest just behind his right foreleg would slow him slightly. She crouched, watching the cat wearily and holding her spear between her and the wounded beast.

The cat sensed this was a dangerous foe. There was no fear in her eyes or in her scent. But he was angry at having been wounded and being denied the meal he should have had. He circled around the elf, watching her intensely, judging the right angle for an attack. He heard a buzzing sound, then felt another sharp pain in his left side. Instinctively, he spun to see what had hurt him. He spotted another female elf half hidden in the underbrush. Since she was his latest tormenter, he started into a run toward her, his speed hampered only slightly by the pain in both sides.

Kori saw Alie put another arrow into the tuskcat and smiled grimly at her friend’s marksmanship. With three arrows in him, the cat surely would be slowed. The smile faded, however, as she watched the cat begin to run toward Alie. She hurried to run after it, yelling a battle cry and raising her spear for an attack. But the cat was still too fast for her to catch on foot and she knew she would lose the race.

The tuskcat saw a glimmer of fear in his foe’s eyes and roared a challenge. The roar cost him, however, as the pain in his sides intensified. No matter, he saw her freeze at the sound of his anger, which was exactly what he’d intended.

Alie calmly raised her bow with another arrow already drawn. As she was just about to loose it, however, another arrow entered the cat’s left side. “NO!” she shouted at Po, but it was too late. The young elf was trying to protect her mentor, with no thought to the fact that the protection was unnecessary.

For the forth time in mere moments, the cat felt a sharp pain in his side. Barely even breaking stride, he turned to face this new threat. This elf was closer to him and he knew that he would finally get his revenge!

Alie fired quickly, but the cat’s sudden turn and stumbling gait threw her aim off and the arrow simply traced a line across the back of his shoulders. She reached for another, knowing already that she would be too late to save Po.

The cat leapt at his foe, ignoring the pain in his sides as both paws reached for the unmoving elf. His claws unsheathed as he anticipated gripping and rending her flesh. Another low growl escaped him as he opened his mouth prepared to rip her throat out. Then he snarled as he caught the unexpected movement from his left.

Kori slid between the cat and Po, dropping to one knee and bracing her spear against the ground. She shoved Po to the ground and held tightly to the spear’s shaft, anticipating the impact of the cat’s body.

The cat tried to twist aside to avoid the elf, but physics were against him, his angry growl turned to a wheeze as the half meter of steel buried itself in his chest, driven there by the force of his own weight and attack. The cat was dead before his body stopped moving.

Kori was bowled over by the big cat’s charge and buried under its body as it fell. She grunted as his weight crashed into her and pinned her to the ground. Alie and Po hurried over to push the cat off their leader. Kori’s short red hair was matted to her head by the cat’s blood, but she sat up and waved off their efforts to help her.

“Go go. Get the child,” Kori said hoarsely. “I’m fine. But we need to get out of here before the dogs come to feast on this carcass.”

Alie nodded once and turned to go to the basket. She ran lightly across the ground, skipping over rocks and fallen branches, her long brown hair flying in a ponytail behind her. Po hesitated for a moment, torn between helping her leader and following her mentor, but Kori motioned to her to follow. Po’s twin tails, a honey gold imitation of her mentor and idol, bounced in the breeze as she followed after Alie.

Alie reached the basket and bent to pick up the baby. “There there, little one.” She cooed. “It’s ok. You’re safe. We weren’t going to let that cat have you!”

Po smiled as she stood next to Alie and stroked the baby’s face. “Who gets to name her?” she asked quietly.

Alie smiled and said “I think that Kori earned that right when she saved your foolish hide. What were you thinking Po?”

“I was afraid the cat was going to get you. I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing!” Po protested, her harsh whisper frightening the baby into crying again.

“That is exactly what you should have done,” Alie whispered back, making the rebuke sound musical and calming the infant. “I could have put an arrow through his eye and ended it all. I know you want to help, Po, but on a hunt everyone needs to do their job and trust the others to do the same.”

“Yes, ma’am” Po said meekly, looking down at the ground.

Alie smiled softly at her young protégé. “That first shot was excellent, though. Placed right next to mine like it should be.”

Po beamed at Alie’s praise, her eyes twinkling as she smiled.

“Let’s go see how Kori is doing,” Alie said.

They carried the baby back toward where Kori had killed the big cat. Behind them, they heard the soft whisper of the Falling Rope piling up on the ground. The acolytes would have let go of the rope once the slack was taken up. Falling was a one way trip.

Kori looked up as they approached. She had her skinning knife in her hand and was nearly finished with removing half the cat’s pelt. Her arms were covered nearly to the shoulder with blood and gore, but she didn’t seem to mind the mess. Kori was not only her tribe’s leader, but also their main hunter. The mess after a hunt was just part of life to her.

“Do we take the meat?” Po asked as they approached.

“No,” Kori replied with a scowl at the young elf. “Too tough and stringy for one thing. For another it’s a two hour run back to camp. I’ve already had this guy’s weight on my shoulders, I don’t fancy trying to lug him back again with a pack of dogs on my heels. Same reason I’m not rolling him over to get the rest of his hide. We’ll make due with half.”

Po looked down and blushed, feeling foolish for asking such a question.

“But since you mention it,” Kori said, finishing her skinning job with a few last strokes of her knife. “Here.” She said hefting the heavy fur pelt and handing it to Po. “You can carry this back to camp. Maybe it will help you remember that next time you don’t need to try to carry more than your weight in the team.” She softened the blow slightly by reaching out and tugging on the young elf’s pigtail, but she didn’t move to take the pelt back.

Po looked in askance at Alie, but she was already bundling the baby into a carrying satchel which would swing in front of her as she ran, allowing her to keep an eye on the child. Alie shook her head slightly and smiled.

“Kori,” Alie said before they started running. “Look at the baby.” Kori walked over and smiled at the infant, not reaching out to her because of the gore all over her hands.

“She’s beautiful.” Kori said softly.

“She needs a name,” Alie prompted with a warm smile.

Kori looked over at the remains of the dead tuskcat. “Tussa” She said with a wry grin.

Alie laughed musically. “Ok, Tussa. Let’s head home.” She said with a final soft stroke of the baby’s cheek.

Po was still wrestling with how best to carry the awkward pelt when Kori started off, setting the pace toward home. She didn’t push too hard. She knew Po would be struggling enough under 50 extra kilos of fur. As they rounded the tree from which Tussa had been lowered, they could hear the howl of a brush dog calling to his packmates to come feast in on the fresh kill.

After 15 minutes of running, Kori stopped and helped Po string the pelt into a parcel which she could carry on her back. Po didn’t even attempt to suggest someone else might carry it. She shouldered the packed up skin with a nod, and a soft “Thank you, Kori” then waited for her leader to start the run again. Kori smiled her approval at Po and headed back down the trail.

Kori drifted back and forth from taking the point position to hanging back and listening for pursuit. Po puffed heavily with the extra weight on her back. Only Alie seemed to enjoy the run as she sang lullabies to Tussa the whole way home.

Return to The Chronicle


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