A New Kind of Warrior - Bound Together

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The Dark One says nothing, but lies back and exhales deeply. I take the opportunity to unfasten Egrin's armour and don it. It is too big and I lack the energy to reshape it, but I would feel less like a warrior without it. I wish I could do more for my comrades, but the earth will take them, as it always does. I leave them where they lie.

Move, I tell the Dark One and help it to its feet. I shove it forward, up the slope.

The creature stands before the sapling and stares at the tree, roots and soil bound up in a fibrous sheet. It looks at me and wants to ask a question, but refuses to open its mind to do so. No matter. It does not need to understand. I cut away any sorcerous warped metals adorning the Dark One's clothing. These are blasphemous to my Blessed Scion.

I order it to help me retrieve the sacred tree. It is an awkward procedure as I help free the sapling and hoist it on the Dark One's back, strapping it in place. I use a spare piece of rope to join the straps like a harness and bind that to my wounded arm.

Is it aware of what it bears on its back? Blessed Scion, I think, I simply have not the strength to complete this task on my own. I pray for your forgiveness, but is this moment not the destiny that your High Priestess divined for me?

The day she confirmed me as fieldwoman, the fieldman who was to be my consort, a man more than thrice my age, fell from his mount, his soul passing beyond the mountains. Instead of naming a new consort for me, the High Priestess left me as my God's vassal with the responsibility for my fieldstake. People thought it strange at the time, but perhaps she had divined this very moment in my future. I have always believed there was a purpose to it.

This is my role to play and this is my decision. May it be the right one.

I point toward a spot higher up the mountainous terrain, a plateau covered by a thick copse of trees. To get there, we must climb a slope of hardy scrub interspersed with jagged, rocky patches and flanked on either side by forested ridges. This seems too daunting for me in my present condition, and for my prisoner with the sacred remnant burdening it. I choose a more winding path from what I can discern of the landscape. So far from the heart of Blessed Scion, this land is largely unknown to me.

I see the mood on the Dark One's face sour as it considers the difficulty of the climb, but it says nothing and starts out. I follow. We set out and trudge for a while, the Dark One clumsily picking a path around and over tangled roots and brush while I prod it occasionally with my sword.

The Dark One breaks the silence. Lindal. I discerned your name before you closed your mind.

It matters not to me.

If we are to work together, I would prefer you call me by my name, it says haughtily.

Your names are an artifice. An animal is just an animal. I have already told you I will not kill you and I intend to honour this, if you honour your part. I snort. I am a fool for thinking a Dark One understands honour.

It laughs. How little you understand us.

I tug sharply at its binding and it falls backward, onto its hind quarters. Quiet. Look.

The Dark One's feet rest at the edge of a rock strewn gully that bars our way further up the mountain. I am unsure of making the crossing with only one good arm. If my prisoner should slip, the sapling could be damaged.

It would help if you unbound me, the Dark One says. I frown, having been careless with my thoughts. As a warrior, I should be more disciplined than this.

I resist hurting it for its impertinence, if only for the strain it would cause me. We will move along this gully until we find more suitable ground for crossing.

As you will. Left or right?

I hesitate.

You cannot tell? it says.

I should be able to feel the lay of the land from the spirits that flow through it, but I can sense nothing helpful. I focus as much of my energy as I can, but only pain is forthcoming, with no clarity.

It is your fault, I tell the Dark One. Your blasphemous presence is confounding my communion with the Blessed Scion.

It grimaces, looking at my wounded shoulder.

Left, I say hurriedly.

The ground is more broken in that direction, with many furrows and spurs of rock that make the going difficult. The trees give way to thick brush. The gully steepens into a sharply sloping crevasse. I ponder reversing direction, but then I see that the crevasse narrows considerably.

We can attempt to cross over there, I say.

We cannot do that. It shrugs uncomfortably, shifting in its harness.

I look back toward the path we have followed. It is impossible to see much beyond the thick of the forest, but smoke plumes now rise from the base of the mountain, and the sound of Dark Ones' thunder creeps ever upward.

We cross now.

It wishes to ask me to untie it, but I meet this with a grim stare. With my sword, I indicate a series of footholds that should allow us to descend far enough down the slope of the crevasse and close enough to take hold of the other side with good leap.

Madness, it says, but it crouches down at the edge and lowers itself down as I point my sword. It has enough leeway to manoeuvre its hands to take hold of the rock as it moves. It is not in consort with the land, as one of my race or even a thrall is, and it must change its handholds several times. Some of the jutting rocks wobble or topple into the crevasse, rolling noisily down the jagged slope.

The rope grows taut and I begin to follow, sword now strapped to my back. I try to trace the same path as the Dark One, taking care to close my mind. I do not wish it to know that my own communion with the land grows weaker as I tire.

Even so, I am stunned when the first bit of rock I grip crumbles beneath my hand and I slip down the crevasse.    

Continued in Part 4 . . .

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