Join our hero, as he begins his journey, leaving the safety of all that he has ever known. Follow him as he wanders both the unexplored and well-worn places of the world, in his search for the knowledge of who he really is. Throughout the entirety of his young life, Cazadore had been shunned and reviled by the townsfolk. He never knew why, although he always had suspicions. Now, when the moment is right, our hero has decided that it is time to step out of the life he has always known and take on the challenges and dangers of the world outside. Our hero begins his journey on a mission to understand the mysteries swirling around who he truly is, but little did he know the adventures that this mission would take him on, the dangers that he would have to face, the romances he would find and how he would find the answers to questions that he had never asked. Join our hero on his grand adventure!
The grass was a bright green, as was always the case when Spring had just opened the doors, allowing the first bit of warmth to leak back into the world. It was a bright, light green, soft underfoot, soft enough that it would be foolish to consign our feet to a pair of shoes. When summer deepened and the grass lost the soft innocence that spring bestowed on it, we would lace up our shoes, as the grass would no longer brush our soles, but scratch at it. But for now, we would enjoy this first taste of warmth. While it came every year, without fail, it was always the most beautiful thing. No matter how many times it happened, no one could resist the call of spring. Children and great-grandparents rejoiced in equal measure, albeit each in their own ways. The old did not change much, except that they brought their chairs outside, napping under the sunlight instead of candlelight. The young, in many ways, did not change either. Instead of bundling up and playing in the snow, they got on their spring clothes, and played in the soft grass and in the still cold rivers, but they were still just as rambunctious as they had been when the cold blanket of winter had lain over everything.
While certain things changed and other things stayed the same, no matter the time of the year or the weather outside, there was always something changing within me, and often things were changing on the outside of me as well. It was one of the reasons that I was so shunned within the community that I had been born. I would say born and raised, but my mother had had to raise me in a hut that was separated from town, away from the cruelness that can be so shocking when it manifests in ordinary minds and mouths. She was always able to walk to town when she needed supplies, and the townsfolk would begrudgingly sell her what she needed, but the cordiality went no further. They did not engage in small talk, they did not ask how her child was doing, and we certainly got none of the house calls in the winter that the other mothers raising a child all on their own seemed to be entitled to.
As a child, I thought the behavior of the townsfolk to be no less abhorrent than I do now, but back then I did not know why they treated us in such a way. With my ignorance, I assumed that we had done something wrong, or that my father had wronged the town in some way that justified the way the way that they treated my mother and I. At times, some of my conjectures about the reasons came close to the truth, but they never were fully correct. There were hints as to why we were treated so poorly and shunned, separated as we were. But I do not think that it is time yet to tell you why we received such terrible treatment. There are so many other things to talk about, so many other stories to tell.
First, it must be said, and said with a heavy heart, that my wonderful mother has passed from this realm to the next. Nothing will take the sadness lying on my heart away, but it does lift my spirits knowing that the pain in her heart and the sadness at seeing her only child treated with such coldness is now gone, as she is in the World Beyond, where all souls go to. I like to think that she is in one of the nicer areas, where the good souls go, but there was so much that happened in her life before I came along that I simply cannot know. Perhaps, when I die, I hope to see her again, sitting and relaxing, like she so loved to do, but always seemed far too busy to ever get to.
With the passing of my mother, there was absolutely no reason at all to stay in this town that despised me so much. I will admit, I was saddened to leave the beauty of the natural world if this town behind, although there was no other sadness that followed me. If it had not been for the poor treatment, I would have never been able to leave that town; the beauty of the mountains that surrounded us, the breathtaking nature of the waterfalls that were placed intermittently on the mountains, the lush green grass that emerged during the spring and summer days and the way that the moon shone off the snow in the middle of a winter night, illuminating the world almost as bright as the sun could hope to achieve.
I always suspected that our town was different from the settlements (both big and small) that dotted the rest of the land outside of our little sanctuary (a sanctuary is quickly what I learned our town to be – the peace that our town enjoyed was an anomaly in the rest of the world, and one of the reasons that my mother and I were treated in the manner that we were). From the little pieces of information I was able to gather, when my mother was in the mood to talk about the time before I was born, I learned that she was born and raised in this town, just like I was. In fact, her family had been a part of this town for as long as anyone could remember, perhaps even going back to the time that it was founded. Apparently, before she had met my father, she had been treated like any other girl in the town, preparing to marry one of the other young boys who had been born and raised, and whose families had been a part of the towns history for centuries as well. Well, one day, a man came in over the mountains and waterfalls, through the wilderness that shielded our town from the land beyond. As a child, I never saw a stranger enter our town, nor did I see anyone leave our town. I never thought it strange, until it became apparent how bizarre it truly was when I began my travels. Growing up with something, no matter how bizarre it may be in reality, always seems to be the norm until we are taught otherwise. Well, I quickly learned that being isolated, and seeing no strangers in 23 years is not only strange, but perhaps completely unheard of outside of where I grew up. I hope that, one day, I can be the person to upend that belief in somebody’s sheltered little town – I hope to be the person that my father was to my town, and the person who I desperately wish had come along before I had to learn the ways of the world the hard way.
Well, now that my mother had passed and I had decided that it was time to leave, the sad task of packing up the essentially now fell to burden. With the shunning that had come as part and parcel of our lives, being poor had necessarily followed. We had never been destitute, nor had we ever starved, but we had nothing more than the bare essentials, and the bare essentials was not what I needed to start a trek, especially one that was as dangerous as I was anticipating this to be. I tried to go to the butcher to get the smoked and dried meat that I would need for the beginning of the trip, and that did not go anywhere. “Cazadore” he said “I gave your mother what she needed because I knew that she needed certain things to survive. But salted pork and dried meats are not essentials – they are luxuries. And I am not wasting my luxuries on you, even if you have the money to pay for them.” I could not tell him about the trip that made the dried meat an essential, for the ridicule that I already had to deal with would no doubt escalate were he to hear that I was going to leave his perfect town – the town that everyone but I thought was perfect; perhaps his disdain might even turn violent. It had almost happened with other towns people more than a handful of times.
I tried to go to the fletcher to get arrows that would fly straight, but he would not give me anything – I would have to deal with the rough ones that I could create. The baker would only give me flour that I needed to pick the bugs out of, and the cobbler would only give me the shoes that he had not had time to fix up yet. I wish I could say that, like always, I was stuck making my own solutions, but this time it seemed far worse than any of the others when my mom had still been around.
One night, I was sitting near the fire that I had made in the hut to keep the chill that comes along as the spring sun sets, making the fletching on the arrows that I was going to need to if I hoped to eat anything after the rations I was bringing ran out. With the fletching drying by the fire, I brought out some old animal fat that I had sitting on a shelf over the sink, from days long gone, when I had managed to shoot a few rabbits and other rodents, which my mother had made into a stew. While we always suffered more than the other families in town, the small joys that we had together seemed far more powerful because of it. We had a certain beauty and strength between the two of us, something that is all but impossible to achieve when life becomes too easy. The animal fat brought back fond memories, but it had more purpose than just engendering memories of days gone by. I took the quiver that my mother had made for me so many years ago and began to cover the outside of it with a thin layer of the animal fat. With spring now here, inclement weather would certainly be showing its face on a regular basis. As I sat oiling up the quiver to protect it from rot and decay, the smell of wet earth and the weight of heavy wind wafted in through the window, letting me know that one of those spring storms that I was protecting my quiver from was making its way across the town, and had found a willing recipient on my doorstep.
With work always on my mind, and very few things to occupy my mind on the rare occasion that work was not a necessity, I had always relished the coming of a storm, as I could open the front door and pull up the chair to the opening, put my feet outside while my back was to the fire, and enjoy the comforts of a warm home while appreciating the fury with which mother nature hides her kinder side with. While I had the mundane tasks of preparing for the trip ahead of me, I have always been the kind of person who appreciates the breaks from work – even if they are only for a few minutes as the sky lets down her tears. With the wind growing stronger and the scent of ozone now adding to that of damp earth, I knew that this was not going to be one of those usual spring showers where I could put my feet out the doors of the hut. No, I would need to batten down the hatches and put out the fire, lest the wind create a backdraft and send soot, ash and ember flying around the room, burning down the little that I had in this life. I took all the precautions, and none too soon. Within moments of smothering the fire and placing the cover on the chimney to prevent the rain and wind from blowing around the hut, a flash illuminated the sky and a huge *KRAKOOM* followed immediately after the flash. In my lifetime, I could not remember a storm that had ever passed through with such ferocity as this one. Perhaps the spirit of the land was angry with me for leaving, but I could not let her cow me into submission. No matter how bad she wanted me to stay stuck in this town full of nothing but disdain for me, I would not stay a moment longer than I had planned. Even if this storm stayed throughout the next week, I would leave the second I woke up from tonight’s slumber, as I had planned since my mother passed away at the beginning of the last winter. I would not be a captive of this town any longer!
As this thought crossed my mind, the intensity of the storm increased past the already frightening heights that it had already achieved. I was not unaware of the dangers that spring storms could pose, nor was I naïve to the frights that they could provide. I had been in this town my whole life, and I had seen storms that leveled homes, floods that wiped away entire fields of barley, even a bolt of lightning that had struck a farmer’s prized bull, splattering its intestines all over the side of the wall that it had been attempting to use as shelter. This storm was different. The fury of this storm was not the natural fury of mother nature, which while brutal at times, is as natural as the sun rising and as necessary for humanity’s survival as the air that we breathe. The tempest that raged around my tiny hut was now the only thing I could think about, and fear began to creep into my mind. The desire that I had just moments ago to escape this town was now replaced with a desire to survive – even with years of trying to escape this town, fear for my survival could replace that desire in a moment.
As I moved towards the center of the room, away from the walls that I thought were going to collapse at any moment, the door to the hut exploded into thousands of tiny little splinters. The splinters embedded themselves into the walls, tore right through the old curtains that my mother had sewn out of our old clothes, and the metal brackets that had held the door in place whizzed by my head and destroyed the few plates that I had, sounding like the firecrackers that the kids set off during the holidays in town. When the door exploded, I dropped from the chair that I was sitting in and balled up on the floor, covering my head, hoping that I would not receive the same fate as the things in the hut. Miraculously (or perhaps by design), I was left completely unharmed, with none of the thousands of flying projectiles even scratching me.
I sat up, patting my arms and legs, marveling that I had made it without so much as a scratch. In the few moments that I spent making sure that I was OK, I did not look at the gaping hole where the door had once been. The second I did, I was left in shock. Immediately outside of the stoop, there was a storm raging, the likes of which I had never seen before in my entire life and would never see again. The rain was coming down in such a torrent, it was impossible to see any individual drop – it was just a massive sheet, falling from the sky in a black cacophony of terror. Seemingly every moment that I blinked, there was another lightning strike, with a thunderclap loud enough to shake my (quickly disintegrating) hut and pierce through the sound of the torrent. More shocking than any of this, however, was the fact that none of the raging storm crossed over the border between my hut and the outdoors. While there were dozens of possible explanations, I quickly concluded that the reason my hut was left untouched (excusing the door of course) was due to the woman standing in the doorway.
She was holding a staff that was the same color as the lightning, and just like the lightning, it undulated between bright yellow and pure white, illuminating my hut in the process. Her hair was the color of rain, but not of the rain that I was experiencing now. It was the color of clear spring rain, the kind that sprinkled down on children’s heads during the morning, when they first escaped their mothers to go play with all the other children. It was dotted with the colors that this rain takes on, as well. The color when this spring rain splashes down onto the light green leaves, the new leaves that have just grown past their buds. The color of clay, when the rain mixes with the dirt on the hidden paths that only the wild animals know of. The color of a hidden lake, a blue almost impossible in its vibrancy, one so pure and powerful that one cannot help but stare and say a prayer, thanking the Creator that something so beautiful can simply exist. All these colors were manifest in her hair, and they changed and mixed with each minute movement of the woman’s head, playing a cacophony of beautiful colors for my eyes to drink in. Her garment was one long, flowing gown, the color of bark on an old willow tree, the type of tree that has been around longer than great-grandparents, and has given shade to countless generations of children and elderly alike. It was in stark contrast to her hair – the youth of spring and the wisdom of the elder tree encapsulated in two glances. Her face was overshadowed by her eyes, which seemed to possess the same power as the staff that she was holding. Within her eyes was a tempest that shamed the chaos fuming at my doorstep and all around the town. I knew, even before looking in her eyes, that I was in the presence of a woman who had surpassed the definition of “powerful” and inhabited a realm that was all her own. I lowered my eyes and tried to genuflect, even though I knew not how, growing up as a rube despised by my entire town.
“Raise your eyes, Cazadore, for you have a task, one that I have great interest in, and it is in grave danger of failing even before it has begun.” Her voice was in stark contrast to her eyes, as it was defined by a cadence of kindness and softness, belying the terror that she commanded, and the power that she seemed to take for granted. Within only a few moments, I knew that I would never forget this woman, even if I were to never to see her again. “You were wise to plan for your escape, but you were foolish in the manner in which you went about it. The fletcher, the baker and the cobbler all talk, and they talked about you going in requesting their services. You have never gone before, for you knew that their answer to you would be one of denial. Your desperation to escape this town, however, gave you hope that they might relent in their mistreatment and give you what you needed. Instead, they discussed your newfound confidence and concluded that it needed to be dealt with. They planned on coming tonight, to teach you a lesson, one that I fear would have ended in worse than they planned, for mobs rarely end with they planned to, if their plan was ever a legitimate one to begin with. I cannot tell you why you and your journey are important to me, and I have already used too much of my good graces in conjuring up this tempest to keep them at home tonight. You will need to trust me. Can you do that, Cazadore?”
I wanted to say that no, I was not going to trust this strange sorceress, who just conjured up the most terrifying tempest that I had seen in my lifetime, and I was going to do what I had been planning to do, regardless of what she said had to be done. There was something about her, though, something that said that I should trust her. I had always trusted my instincts, and it had kept me alive, or at least only moderately harmed, more than a few times. And here, my gut was telling me to trust her and do what she said. After a few moments hesitation, I said “Ok. I’ll trust you. But before I go about doing your whims, and trusting that it was in fact you who summoned this storm, I need to know a little about you.” I added “please” and a genuflection at the end of this, as a bolt of lightning struck a few feet outside the door, and her eyes flashed in concordance with the boom that followed. “Very well, Cazadore. But from now on, you will address me with deference. You have a role to play, and you are important, but I will not tolerate insolence, ever. Men have suffered consequences for forgetting to bow to me before, and the manner in which you just addressed me is completely unacceptable. Do you understand?” “Yes milady” I answered, with far less sarcasm that I thought I would – which was quite possibly a life saving decision. “Good. I trust that you are smart enough to realize just how serious I am.” She paused, letting this statement sink in, and transitioned to the question I asked, which had been the cause of this aside.
“My name is Meliborѐ, and I knew your father long before he had ever fallen for your mother, and certainly before you were a twinkle in his eye.” As she said this, the dozens of questions that I always had about my father, which my mother had consistently refused to answer, rushed to my lips. The second that one question got there, however, another one began to fight to be spoken first, and I ended up staying quiet, allowing her to continue speaking unimpeded. “There are many dangers and wonders that lie outside of this town and you have a role to play in many of their existences. What role you have to play, even I do not know, but what I do know is that, if my plans or the plans of my counterparts are to be fulfilled, you will need to take your talents outside of this town and put them to use.” “What talents?” I asked. “I can barely make an arrow, and the only skills I ever learned while stuck in this town were how to scrape a living off the land and survive as best I could!” “Those talents are not something that you should devalue, Cazadore. Many people have died around this world because they do not have the skills that you do. They will not be enough to see you to the end of your journey – you have much yet to learn. But they will be enough to keep you alive as you start out, which will have to be enough. For now.” “Your mother grew up in this town and was the daughter of a family that was respected, but she was nothing special outside of this town. From what I could gather and from the way that your father talked about her, I have no doubt that she was a good woman, who only wanted the best for you, her only child, and undoubtedly wished that she could have lived a normal life with you and your father. Alas, for her, that was not the role that your father was destined to play. His destiny was one of grandeur, a destiny that he tried to run away from with your mother, one he tried to avoid while living in this town. One day, I am sure you will hear of what happened to him and why you had to grow up without a father. Unfortunately, we have already exceeded the amount of time that was prudent for me to spend here – there are…entities who will notice my presence if I stay any longer. They likely already have. One day you will learn why your father did not stay to raise you. Today, though, it will need to suffice for you to learn that because he abdicated the destiny that was rightfully his, it now falls to you. I pray that you will not make the same decision as your father. I am not sure if we could survive another abdication…”
I continued to gape at her; looking back I have no doubt that my mouth was flapping like a fish gasping for air and my eyes were as big as the saucepans my mother used on Sundays. After looking like a fool for only a few moments, I managed to eke out a question. “I understand that we need to leave now, but…well, I know that you won’t be bothered by the storm outside, seeing that you created it, but I know that I might have some trouble with it. Particularly with those massive lightning bolts that seem to be striking everywhere!”
“Hmm. I apologize, Cazadore, for I sometimes forget how frail you mortals truly are. There are so many insignificant little things that can be your demise, yet there are so many miraculous things that only your peoples can accomplish. It is truly a wonder. Very well. Take this gift from me and use it wisely.” When she finished speaking, she took the staff in both her hands, raised it high above her head, and brought it down with a force that seemed incomprehensible when taken in conjunction with her physique. As the base of the staff contacted the floor, a lightning strike far larger than any other manifested on the stoop. The sheer force of such a manifestation, even though there was no contact, caused the front wall to disintegrate, leaving the hut now wide open to the elements. However, because Meliborѐ was still standing at the door, the elements did not yet make their way into the ruins of what had once been my home.
I had shielded my eyes from the blast and now began to look again at what was going on in front of me. Where the staff had once stood, in its place was a sword, one that glowed with an ethereal light that seemed to reflect the storm raging around my destroyed hut. Meliborѐ looked at me; “Vastanya has been my partner for many years and has served me well. There have been difficult situations, dangerous ones and near escapes that were all aided because of her dedication to me. She serves every individual that she is bonded to with the same tenacity, and I am sure that it will be no different with you.” I thanked her, but did so with an air of confusion. It was certainly interesting to see the staff change form, but it was not reason to treat it as if it was a person. Or so I thought. Meliborѐ extended the sword to me, but before I could grab a hold of the hilt, she let go of it. I instinctively jerked my body to grab it before it hit the floor, but my efforts were unnecessary. For a moment, it simply floated in the air where she had let go of it. As I stared at it in amazement, I noticed some electrical tendrils begin to reach out from the hilt, as if seeking somewhere to land. Well, it turned out that my hands were the exact landing spot that they were looking for. Instantly, the tendrils spread from the fingers that I had extended towards it to the rest of my body, making me glow in the darkness of the tempest surrounding us. The glow became more intense, turning from a dull glow to an iridescent cascade, pouring out of both me and the sword, illuminating the darkness, even through the sheet of rain all around us.
The light was overwhelming but was not something that I could escape, as I was the source. the glow abated and I noticed that, with the disappearance of the light, there appeared a voice in my head. It was much more than a voice, though. I had always been introspective, and I was keenly aware of the manner in which I spoke to myself. This new visitor upstairs was more than a voice; it felt more like a sentience than anything else. “Aahhhh, it seems that I have a new bearer! I have been with Meliborѐ for nigh on a century now, and while I did enjoy her company, it was beginning to get a bit stale. I do hope that you won’t tell her I said that though, my dear Cazadore. And yes, there is no need to introduce yourself. Now that we are bonded, all your thoughts and memories are shared with me, the illustrious Vastanya! You are a lucky one, Cazadore, to have become my bearer. I have seen innumerable landscapes, hundreds of cultures, have participated in bloody conflicts spanning millennia, and that is only in the form in which you hold me now. Perhaps, if you turn out to be one of the more talented of my bearers, you might be lucky enough to experience some of my other forms. I certainly hope so. Transforming is such a wondrous experience for me, and the common folk (when they are blessed enough to see it) find it to be quite the marvelous experience!”
Meliborѐ must have seen the bewildered look on my face, for the expression on her face was one of desperately concealed mirth. I must have not been paying attention while Vastanya was introducing itself to me, for she handed me all the materials that I was preparing for my excursion, all bundled up nicely. The arrows looked far nicer than they should have, and it seemed that my bag was heavier than I was anticipating – when I opened it, it was filled to the brim with food – dried meats, travelers’ bread, dried fruits (and even some fresh ones) and all other kinds of foods perfect for the traveler. The concealed mirth on her face transformed into a smile, and before I could thank her through my shock, one final thunderbolt came from the sky, slamming into her person. With that she was gone, to only the gods know where.
Meliborѐ was gone, and it was now time to leave. I strapped Vastanya to my side and put the bag of food on my back. I placed the quiver and arrows in the bad, and slung my bow over the whole thing, with the bow string across my chest holding it in place. Through this whole process, Vastanya kept talking to me and it was turning out to be quite an odd experience. Having a conversation with a weapon is one thing, but having the conversation inside your head, regardless of whether you want to? That’s a whole other thing entirely. “Cazadore. Caz. How about I call you Caz? And you can call me Vas!” “Sure” I muttered under my breath. “Oh, there’s no need to use that mouth of yours to talk to me. Please, I find the whole concept of having to move something to talk to be so primitive. I would much prefer it if you would address me in the same manner that I address you. And as a side note, I find that continuing our conversations through this medium keeps the more common folk far less suspicious of you than they would be otherwise. Trust me on that one – I have seen the repercussions of suspicious townsfolk. It is rarely pretty.”
I could hardly argue with Vas on that one, as I had been on the receiving end of far too many suspicious townsfolk for me to disagree. Even if I wanted to disagree, this was not the time – the warning that Meliborѐ had given me was weighing heavy upon my mind. And with her disappearance, the storm was beginning to abate. All the things that I needed and was worried about had been given to me by Meliborѐ, and I had a sentient sword at my side! The time for waiting was over.
Strapped up and ready to go, I began the walk towards the boundaries of the town. There were a few paths that I could take to leave the town. Even though no one (that I knew of) had ever left, the curious children always wandered to the edges, taunting the others, seeing if any of them were brave enough to be the first to leave. Children are ever innocent of the squabbles of adults, and I had always cavorted with them before the prejudices of their parents became their prejudices as well.
While there were three or four paths that I could have chosen to take out of the town, I chose the one that nobody ever went to. It was not one of the grandiose places, down a waterfall and over the beautiful rivers. It was not the path through the imposing wilderness, with trees predating even the oldest stories and memories of the town’s elders. Neither did I take the winding path cutting directly through the mountains. While no one ever used any of these paths, they would often stand at the edge, wondering about the grandeur of the outside world, questioning their confidence to explore, while ultimately lying to themselves that the small town drama was all that they needed to be satisfied with life. No, I would not take any of the paths that spoke to the wonder filling my soul, but would take the path that represented the life that I had come to know in this town, one that was unnoticed, but where the most enthralling adventures could be found.
There was a small river that was about a twenty minute walk away from my (now destroyed) hut, where I would go to catch little crabs and fish when we needed some food for the table and where I would go, when I was in my moody teens, to sit and pretend that my life was not what it truly seemed to be. Well, I had never explored the river in depth, but I had this suspicion that if there was a river, then it had to come from somewhere, as I doubted that it sprung from the ground with no source. Now, it was nothing more than a hunch, but I had survived for 23 years on a collection of hunches, luck, hard work and motherly love, so I thought that it wouldn’t be too terrible to trust a lucky hunch to take me somewhere once more. Thinking back on it, I don’t believe that taking the hunch was a bad idea, but I still can’t quite figure out what drove me away from those other three pathways in and out, but I can certainly say that the adventure that this river escape took me on was worth the gamble.
With Vastanya strapped to me, humming a boorish tune that raised the hairs on the back of my hands it was so bad, I reached the border of the town beneath my hut and headed towards the river, which was hidden between some dense forest thicket. Picking my way through the brush and bramble, I made it to the bank of the river. Even though the storm was now passing away, and the moon had come out from behind the clouds, the ravages of the storm, especially on the bank, were painfully visible, and I imagined that they would be so for quite some time. A normal storm is nothing to be messed, and one magically conjured up is something that I still struggle to even describe.
During the many boring summer days in my teen years, when the prejudices of the adults were beginning to take hold in the minds and hearts of the other children, I would seclude myself here. During that time, isolated from the attention of others, I spent long hours learning many new things. One thing that I learned was how to build something approaching a skiff – or at least something that wouldn’t sink if I tried to make some type of water-borne trip. Even with the tempest that had passed over it, it was still in pristine condition (all I needed to do was tip it over to get rid of the rainwater that had filled it), and ready to take me out of the town. I pulled the rushes and branches off from the top of it that I had used to hide and protect it and tipped it over to get rid of the storm water that had filled it, almost to the brim, and began to drag it towards the water. With the prow in the water and the back end still held in place by ground, I unstrapped Vastanya and placed it in the boat. As I did this, I learned that as long as she was not touching me, I could not hear her voice. I also lowered my bag full of provisions, along with the bow, quiver and arrows. With everything in the boat, I braced myself against the skiff, and readied to push, primed and ready to jump into it before it got too far into the water.
With my body braced, I began to push off, but before I was able to finish, I heard a rustling in the bushes behind me. My mind jumped to the worst-case scenario, as it had been conditioned to do – that a horde of villagers had seen my encounter with Meliborѐ and had just allowed me to make it this far as a cruel joke. I stumbled, my feet slipping out from under me as I shifted my weight from pushing the skiff to grabbing for Vas. As my ass landed in the mud, I thought how disappointing it would be to end my grand escape like this – covered in mud and on the ground before I got a single chance to defend myself. Laying on my back, with the last few drizzles of the storm pattering on my bewildered face as a last insult, the rustling stopped and I heard a delicate flapping above me, as the hummingbird that had been causing the rustling left the shelter of the bushes now that the storm was over, and fluttered off to do its own quest, whatever that might be. As it flew off, I couldn’t help but laugh quietly to myself, appreciating my idiocy as well as the beauty of that hummingbird[RN1] . Further humbled and now coated in mud, I pushed the skiff into the water further than I intended to, and used the opportunity to let it float out to the middle of the river and swim out to it, washing off the mud that I was covered in. I got to the skiff and clambered into it in the most ungraceful way possible, but with only minimal water following me into my makeshift little boat. The night was past the halfway point, and the moon and stars, now out from the cover of the storm clouds, provided brilliant illumination, flashing off any and all of the little ripples that the skiff put out as I paddled my way further than I had ever been before. As I paddled, the weariness of the night began to set in. Being in wet clothes, even if the weather was warm, was uncomfortable and added to my exhaustion. Stripping out of everything but my skivvies, I laid my clothes on the edges of the boat, so that they would dry quickly when the sun came up in the morning. I was kept warm through the exertion of paddling, but more and more, I felt as if I had no energy left. I fished in the materials that Meliborѐ had given me and was overjoyed to find a rough spun blanket. I laid the paddle down and curled up in one corner of the skiff, with my head under the seat, covered myself in the blanket and drifted off to sleep, relying on the gentle current of the river to finish the hob of carrying me out of the town.