The Discovery

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          Ralem slowly opened his eyes. It took him a few minutes to focus and remember where he was. A wall of gloomy white greeted his tired eyes. Am I dead? He thought, but his head hurt something awful, and when he tried to get up his shoulder burned. If he was dead he definitely wouldn’t feel so bad. He raised his hand to his face and saw it’s outline faintly, a darker shape among the mist. Fog. He lay there for a few minutes, trying to make sense of the jumble of memories that assaulted his mind. Suddenly he shot up, letting out a gasp as his shoulder screamed. The ambassador, the soldiers, the creature! He got up as quick as he could with his wound and looked at the carnage.  

He could make out limp forms, dark shapes sprawled on the ground. He glanced at each of the fallen men. These were the people he had responsibility over. Many of them were good friends of his. Even more had grown up with him, played with him as children, and fought by his side. He looked away as he felt hot tears build up in his eyes.

          He wanted to honor these brave men by bringing them home to their families for a proper burial but there was no time. He was sworn to protect the ambassador. He had to go after the creature. He also thought about the possibility of more of those creatures. As he thought about what happened he knew something was wrong. Why did the bird just kill them and leave? Would it be back? And why did it run after the ambassador if it already had us? Everything about it made his stomach turn in knots. Was it the way the creature’s eyes were bright with intelligence? Suddenly a new memory he had overlooked before overcame him and he sat down on his knees hard. It had been wearing a collar. He had noticed that it was wearing a black collar on its feathery chest. In the center was a brilliant green emerald-looking rock. The thing must have been sent by somebody! But why would they choose to attack a little caravan, with little valuables? What was so important?

          A scary thought came into his mind: what if I’d been out for days? He knew it had been almost noon when they’d been attacked, but who knew how long he’d been sleeping. He bent down and looked at the huge soggy tracks of the animal, lightly touching the mud. He smiled, fresh. With renewed vigor he got to his feet, and ignoring the pain in his shoulder, began following the giant footprints north. A decision that would change his life forever.

           

          As he headed toward the direction the ambassador had fled he searched his mind for a clue why he was doing this. He had no plan. He had no backup. And the only thing he carried was a sword borrowed from a dead soldier. He looked at the stained blade sadly and knew that it wouldn’t last against the thing he was up against. He didn’t know if the bird had any weaknesses. It seemed insane but he felt like he needed to protect the ambassador. But now he was starting to doubt that was the reason. Ever since they set out he had felt like he needed to protect someone, or something that was inside that carriage. In fact, he felt pulled by some presence. It was strange but somehow felt right.

          As he continued walking his shoulder ached worse and worse. If I don’t tend to it I’ll be the one needing rescue, he thought. He settled next to a swollen stream not far from the road and took a quick sip from the slightly muddy waters, dipping his empty water skin in also. He was so thirsty that he didn’t the swirly current of dirt that spun around the water skin. Taking off his mail and underclothes he looked at the damage. Or he tried to. Because the wound was on his shoulder, it was hard to see. But one thing he was sure of: It wasn’t good. It was oozing a steady flow of blood that had stained his underclothes. Ralem wet his clothing and tried to clean the wound, gritting his teeth in pain. Resignedly, he wrung out his shirt and tied it around his shoulder as tight as he cold to staunch the blood. He cursed under his breath. Why hadn’t he learned how to take care of wounds? He now wished he had listened closer to the lectures he was given on the subject.

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