The continuing journey of Piper Sorrows. Ok so for those of you who have been reading the whole thing and are just starting to wonder 'who is this guy' and 'whats he all about' I started wondering the same thing. To that end this two part story will route out some of the questions. I know how the second part will go, I just need to write it BUT since Nano starts in two days that might be trouble. Don't worry there isn't anything like a cliffhanger ending here, so the wait shouldn't kill you. Stay tuned for Nano Updates next month and enjoy the next Piper story. Thanks and Goood night!
Sorrowful Confessions ~Part One~
The mountains gave way to sparse forest and hill land grudgingly, strangling all but the hardiest trees until the foothills finally gave way to prairie. In the same way winter had begun to lose its grip on the weather, but only ever so slightly; it was the coldest spring in memory. The wind still swept down from the tall peaks carrying winters bite, and the trees had not yet woken from their slumber even though the snow was vanishing. Piper walked the fields of this land without a road to guide him.
The heavy coat was open to his waist, and the scarves had been pulled back to be left dangling, despite the cold still in the wind. It was refreshing, in a way, to feel the bite of that wind. After so many days confined to heavy clothes for basic survival, it was good to let the body breath. It was good to feel the painful chill of the wind. It was good to feel alive.
Stopping on a knoll before heading deeper into the foothills Piper bent to draw a small sign in the dirt.
“I do not know why I come this way, some will or power draws me to walk this route,” he murmured to the wind. “What I once was, I am no more. Once a Knight by the right hand of Kanas, advisor and friend, now a pawn in a game I do not understand.”
He turned his face away from the mountains and away from the wind that swept down the shear rock sides. “All I know is that I seek and what I seek is not where I have been.” Suddenly cold, Piper gathered his coat around him and set off again into the wilderness of the place. In the distance he saw the smoke from a cooking fire and headed towards it.
The camp he happened upon was set in among the brush, a tent of sorts next to a boulder for protection from the wind and a low fire whose ashes and embers were stirred by errant breezes. Two spits of rabbit roasted and a small kettle sat on the rocks, warming slowly. Of men there were, at first, no one but a musket was propped against a pole of the tent near a bundle of provisions, showing signs of life. As Piper approached, a Leaf emerged from the tent and another on a horse came from the brushes, more rabbits on a string and a bow half drawn in his hands.
“Hold stranger,” the Leaf from the tent had a hard face, though finely sculpted. There were bits of scars on his face and on his bare forearms and the brown of his hair was intermingled with green vines. The leaf on the horse might have been of similar make though it wore a cloak with hood drawn fast and a bark mask over its eyes. It drew the bow with a fluid motion when Piper did not stop as suddenly as expected. Eying the archer, Piper held his ground.
“I would ask, one traveller to another, that I might share in your fire? Nothing more, I will do you no harm.”
“Know that I am not being overly cautious, these few woods hide terrors.” The Leaf on foot said, reaching for the leaning gun. “I have no argument against sharing fire as well as food, but I need some token of good faith first. These, as surely you know, are dangerous times.”
Piper nodded and took his coat off, “Of course. I am unarmed…”
“He’s a caster!” The Leaf on the horse said; a male voice.
“Yes. I do not hide it.”
“A caster…” The Leaf on foot thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I have eaten with your kind before and am still here. I am tolerant of casters.”
“You’re curious of casters!” The leaf on the horse spoke, leaping off the back of the animal with pure grace, bow still drawn and trained on Pipers heart. “It is your weakness.”
The first Leaf growled, “Na ca sin sol bach!”
“Na ca sin aln’th kat nora bin ala bach!”
“Na ca sin honk ala.” The two glared at each other for a moment before the Leaf on foot said, “my friend says I must be wary of those such as yourself. He wishes me caution.”
“I will not divide such friends; I will find my own fire.”
“No!” The first Leaf said forcefully, “you will sit with us and we can talk of powers.” He raised his hand and it shone, “I have some small skill myself.”
The masked Leaf lowered his bow, “though I do not trust those of men, you will eat with us. It is decided.”
Piper nodded and shivered, donning his coat again. The two busied themselves around the fire and soon knives were produced along with shallow wooden mugs. They took it in turns leaning in to cut slivers of rabbit, mixing it with boiled herbs from the kettle. The food was bland, but warm. Piper felt some warmth creep back into his bones.
“It is forest food, this brew we drink. Though there is nothing poisonous for man in it, that I know of, I do not think it nourishes you the same way it does us. For that I apologize.”
“It is more than am used to, and I am thankful.” Piper nodded his head and pressed his hands together slightly in thanks.
“Ah ha, see? He is wise and knows the proper gesture to thank a Leaf.” The first laughed, “I am called Twistknot, and this is my friend Thornmoss.”
“Piper…” Twistknot tapped the flat of his knife on his knee. “The name seems familiar to me, are there many of your kind that are called so?”
“A few, you may have me confused with others.” Piper agreed. He kept his face downward. “What brings you to these lands; you are far from real forests.”
Thornmoss tightened his grip on his knife but Twistknot only shook his head.
“If you were a Leaf, we could kill you now without any feeling of guilt. We are of the banished you see, those you may have heard called Ouri. Our crimes are such that our people no longer acknowledge our existence. It is an insult to us to have that fact brought up, but you could not have known.”
“But now I do, I will not dishonour you out of ignorance again.”
“I’m sure we are both grateful.” Thornmoss said quietly, though there was an edge to his voice.
“Indeed.” Twistknot shook his head, glaring at his companion. “Though even banished as we are, we are not without use. We find work as mercenaries. My friend here has mastered the bow and I have diverse skills. Our people will not tolerate us, but they will pay us to solve their problems.”
Piper nodded, “I have heard of you, or those like yourself.”
Twistknot shrugged, “those of the Ouri are not uncommon and we do not hide. Lately even the sap bloods have found use for our brand of ruthlessness. See?” Twistknot grasped the stock of his musket and pushed aside the flap of their tent. Inside a woman was prone with eyes wide open but unseeing. She was dressed as a gypsy with a mass of curly black hair and gold earrings. Her dress was like the autumn forest, patches of red, yellow and orange fabric sewn together to create a tapestry.
“What was her crime?”
“Crime? Hah!” Twistknot cut more meat, “I think honesty was her crime. I heard that our current employer happened upon her as he returned from his winter home last spring. He is a fanciful leaf and demanded that she tell him her fortune. As I now understand it, she has the gift, you see. Like us, she has power. Our employer is forceful, and so she sets out her glass and looks into his future. She had the nerve to tell him what she saw and not what he wanted to hear.”
“A rare fault truth is these days.” Piper said quietly, keeping his eyes on the woman.
Thornmoss chuckled, licking his bowl out like a wolf and sitting back on his haunches, bow in reach.
Twistknot shook his head, “sap bloods are very vain, as you might know, and this one more than most. The woman eluded his own guards and using her power turned herself into a bird to fly away. It took us this much time to find her, laying our quiet traps.”
“I can’t imagine her fate now.”
“It will not be pleasant. We would have started her punishment except that we are under strict orders not to harm her. Not even rope burns on her wrists. That is why we use a subtle poison to darken her mind. She can do nothing without great aid.” Twistknot grinned wildly. “That I could be there when they bring the hot knives, the nightmare magic and dark herbs; her screams will echo.”
“Pain is truly life’s marker, I am almost envious. She will receive a great understanding of life before she passes.” Thornmoss agreed.
“All for the truth…” Piper said.
Twistknot smiled, “it’s a dangerous thing. But enough of that, you have eaten our food and now I would have you show us some of your skill.” He let the musket drop and the flap covered up the woman. “I am eager to learn from others. You see I have taught myself all I know with little guidance.”
Piper set his bowl aside and rubbed his hands on his coat, “it is the least I can do. You spoke of pain and suffering teaching you about life, of knowing life, understanding life. I have a trick I could show you that does this very well. It is simple but few have the courage to summon such things.”
Twistknot leaned close, smiling, “I assure you my mettle is absolute. I have killed men, tortured women and gazed into the dark wells of Kra’la sing where I first received my power. Show me your trick, but I should warn you. In the moment of your slightest betrayal, Piper Sorrows, my friend will kill you.”
Piper’s mouth twitched, “you know me?”
“Know you and know your worth.” Thornmoss had his bow drawn and trained.
“Already the poison that keeps her at bay flows through your veins. It is slow; however, slow enough that I could glean some knowledge from you before we take you to Jonas.” Twistknot spread his hands, “and there is no such order to keep you unharmed. The poison dulls the mind, but keeps the senses sharp. We will teach you something of life in turn for your lesson. Now, continue, please.”
Piper licked his lips, “then I have been caught fairly, it would be a shame if you had to kill me in defence. I might try to escape.”
“You are a target of opportunity, we don’t need the money and I can learn elsewhere but we are greedy. Your worth is great and I would learn from the best. Now, teach. It might be your last chance and we will be easier if your lesson is good.”
“In that case…” Piper flexed his hands, “this is what you might call a dance of shadows. You need water.”
“There is some in the kettle.”
“Yes, that’s enough, and placing your hands like so, you hum like this. There are other ways to work it, but I prefer music.”
Piper placed his hands on both sides of the kettle and began a low wordless song. His tongue tripped over the highs and lows seamlessly, whirling the music like a tool. The fire dimmed and the sun dimmed, for the song had qualities of night from the darkest days. The water rippled in the pot and then balled, rising up out of the pot and pooling into a ball that shifted this way and that. Instead of reflecting light its surface seemed to reflect shadows, gathering up all the bits of shade around the camp fire and casting them out again in mesmerizing patterns. Any light of the day dimmed to a memory.
The song gathered strength and the shadows in the water took form. Twistknot leaned closer, enthralled by it and Thornmoss let his bow string slip a bit, releasing the tension. The shapes became more solid to them, glimpses of memories and snatches of thought.
“It absorbs light and twists shadows into creatures, intriguing I have not seen magic of this sort before. They are, they are from my own life! I can see back into my life, the magic is showing it to me!” Twistknot leaned closer and Piper continued.
The song grew louder but the two leaf’s weren’t paying attention to that anymore, they were engrossed in the shifting shapes, shadows re-enacting their pasts. There were moments of joy and happiness, flung together with shards of passion and indulgence. Dreams and wishes flashed across the waters edge, reaching out with alluring hands to beckon the two Leaf’s inward to relive the best parts of their life. They could not look away, not even when Piper lifted his hands away, leaned into the fires’ smoke and shook a tear from his eye into the water. The joy vanished.
Nightmares and horrors stretched out clawed hands. Faces of aguish, victims and those wronged appeared as spectres. No longer were the shapes confined to the ball of water, but reached out grasping at the minds of the two. Thornmoss screamed, tried to run, but found he could not. Twistknot only stood, mouth open and eyes wide. They both fell to the ground shaking, mouths in wide soundless screams.
Piper let his hands fall, the water melted back into the pot and light returned to the campsite. The Leaf’s stayed as they were, frozen from the base realization of their evil.
“It’s a simple spell, but few have the courage,” Piper murmured, “I might have said few have the heart. A child can look into that magic and see nothing, for they are innocent. It only shows what is already there, nothing more.”
Piper crossed to the two Leaf’s and covered their bodies with blankets. “It will pass in time, the shock and the fear and I pray you learn from it. It is rare; few get the chance to look so honestly into their own souls, to be taught so much about them in such a short time.”
Piper opened the tent flaps and took the woman, still dazed from the drugs, in his arms and went off into the spares woods. He stopped before he reached the edge of the camp. “You were right Twistknot, the truth is a dangerous thing.”