The men have finally reached a huge river, teeming with naiads. He realizes the time is right to use his gift from the old naiad.
Revanth did as he was told. Kicking the fire out, he swung into his saddle, holding Alton’s horse by the reins. Alton took something from the bag, which looked like gravel. Holding it in his hand, he whispered a few words over it, casting it upon the water in as straight a line as he could. A low rumble began, which Revanth didn’t hear, but felt in his teeth. It grew louder, more insistent. As they watched, a line of flat, interlocking, hexagonal stones rose from the water. Stretching nearly halfway across the river, they provided a stable base to walk. The water rose quickly on the other side, but still coursed through the open half.
Alton sprang on his horse, kicking him to a canter. Revanth followed. When they were nearly at the end of the walkway, Alton slung another handful of stones, after the same whispered words, they also grew and rose.
“Quickly!” Alton yelled.
Already, the naiads and their horses charged the stones, clashing into them, trying to remove them from the river. Since the stones came up from the riverbed, there was little they could do. Revanth and Alton trotted across, the sounds of angry screams and whinnies in their wake.
“Did you use them all?”
“Not by a long chalk. I could ford the river in a dozen more places, and still have a few left.”
“Did you store them in your food bag?”
“No. That is only for food. Something, such as stones, would not work. And I hesitate to introduce an item like that into it. Stoneware containers work, because they have been fired and changed. Live rock….” He shrugged.
“Live? As in—living?”
“All stone lives,” Alton said as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Shaking his head, Alton kicked his horse to a canter once more. “There are some things, human, that you simply have to take on faith.”
Angry cries and neighing followed them as they rode swiftly away. Once out of earshot, they slowed to a walk, thanking the horses for their speed. This night, they would spend in the wild, for there were no inns for a least a league. Making their camp that night, Alton used his tinderbox for the first time, loving it immediately. He was so enamored of it, he sat and played with it for some time after the fire was started. Soon, his skillful, long fingers were able to make a spark with just one hand.
“You’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on that folly,” Revanth said, with a shake of his head.
“On the contrary. I can think of all manner of instances that it might come in handy.” For the next hour, he worked on the single handed technique, eventually trying with his right hand, which wasn’t his dominant one. He was less sure with it, but was still able to spark tinder nine times out of ten attempts.
Shaking his head in wonder, Revanth settled down for the night. Alton took first watch, continuing to play with his new skill. Though he looked preoccupied, and as if he weren’t paying attention, little escaped his extraordinary senses. A twig snapping nearby caught his attention and he swiveled slightly toward the sound. A man stood a few yards away. For him to be that close, he must have incredible woodcraft. It wasn’t something that most humans were capable of. In fact, he didn’t know of any, in all his wide travels, would could accomplish that feat—sneaking up on a wood sprite in the woods.
“Who are you?” he said, rising slowly, glad his sword was near to hand. He drew it, slowly, holding it casually in his left hand.
“I let you hear me, Sprite. Do I look like a fool to you?”
Alton tipped his head, nodding. “Yes. But I’m willing to cast aside first impressions.”
“The more fool you for engaging me when my friends come up behind you.”
“You mean the burly fellow with fetid breath to my right behind, and the slow one with the club foot, who’s trying to sneak up quietly to my left? Or do you mean the idiot in the tree with a longbow? Awkward choice.”
“A lone wood sprite thinks he can take on four of us?”
“Four to one? The odds aren’t evenly stacked, are they?”
“Surrender now, and we’ll leave your ears—maybe.”
“I meant,” Alton snickered, weaving an intricate pattern with his sword. “Not evenly stacked—for you.”
His foot shot out, kicking the club footed man like a mule. The oaf to his right got a fist to his balls. Alton grabbed the man in front of him, swinging around before the bowman could get off his shot. The bow snagged in the branches, and he dropped his arrow. The quiet man struggled, all feet and elbows as he tried to free himself.
Alton chuckled. “Boy, you picked the wrong man to attack.” He shook his head. He shoved the young man from him, tripping him so he fell on his knees. “Go home, child. And next time, send a man to ambush me.”
“I’m not a boy! I have lain with women….”
“One, perhaps—paid in full, was she? Just because you can use your pecker, doesn’t make a man of you.”
The young man rushed him, coming in low and fast, quicker than most humans. Alton braced himself, lowering his center of gravity and met him. The boy impacted with Alton’s firm abdomen. Gasping for breath, he tried to topple the wood sprite. Rather than wasting anymore time, Alton brought his elbow down on the boy’s back, knocking him to his knees once more.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes