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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 14

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

“What’s going on, Grackle?” I ask. “Is this some sort of trick?” My fingers grip the handle of my knife and I glance to either side, looking for possible routes of escape. The limbs are thick with leaves, however, and there are no clear paths in the darkness.

“Be at ease, Brahkis. The globes are merely an indication that we’re near. They serve to alert me to intruders as well as dissuade the superstitious from proceeding.”

The lights swirl closer, illuminating the forest as they pass. The trees are less dense ahead from what I can see, but the glowing circles blink out before reaching us. Shadow’s tail brushes my leg as he pushes past, his dark coat rendering him invisible once he advances beyond the Grackle.

“Where’s he going?” I wonder aloud, feeling foolishly disappointed.

“He probably smells food,” the Shaper answers from ahead. “I’m in the process of curing some elk.”

“Do you hunt?” I ask, not able to imagine it.

“Only as much as I have to,” he replies.

“Humans eat too much meat,” Rhiannon weighs in, though nobody asked.

It’s not that I disagree with her, but I don’t feel she’s in a position to criticize, given we just saved her from – well, I don’t even want to think about what the Roaring Bears might have done to her.

We continue forward, picking through the undergrowth and around the tall guardians that have watched over this land for an age, though the vegetation has become sparser. And then, suddenly, we arrive.

“Lucemi,” the Grackle mumbles. The end of a metal rod he’s picked up from somewhere bursts into light. Though probably not much brighter than the larger moon when full, compared to the blackness we’ve been wading through, it may as well be the sun.

The Grackle stands a half-dozen paces ahead of me, and in front of him, illuminated by his magical torch, is a stone hut with a conical roof. A low, stone wall surrounds the abode, and as I draw near and the Grackle unlatches the wooden gate, I see that what I mistook for a modest dwelling actually extends diagonally in both directions from the central hub. The rectangular wings of the Grackle’s home reach further into the darkness than is discernable with his hand-held, white light.

“Give me a moment to suppress the wards,” he says, slipping inside his gate and shutting it behind him. “I rarely have guests,” he calls, both his voice and light muted as he ducks behind the perimeter wall. “Invited ones, anyway.”

Rhiannon looks at me while we wait. “I am grateful for your intervention. How is it that you were in place to waylay those barbarians?”

“He had something to do with it,” I nod in the direction of the house, “but I was already on my way to visit the fort for my chieftain. It belongs to my kin, but we hadn’t heard from them in longer than expected. It appears the Roaring Bear clan has declared war on the Shadowwolves.”

She looks at me with a puzzling stare. “Your people fight amongst themselves? This makes no sense.”

“You’ll just have to trust me that it does,” I say. I don’t have the time to explain the importance of familial bonds and allegiances to an outsider.

The light grows brighter, and I see the Grackle holding the gate open. “It’s safe to come inside, now.”

“After you,” I offer to Rhiannon, who considers me for a moment before deciding to hold her tongue. I follow her through the gate, and Shadow trots up from the back of the house as we reach the front door.

The Grackle taps the latch with the lit end of his rod and speaks another nonsensical word. I can hear the bar on the other side of the door lifting of its own accord, following which the Grackle pushes the door open. It looks heavy, and is nearly as thick as the span of my hand.

The front room is a circle, at least three times larger than my enclosure at Treehorn Hall. Similar wooden doors rest across from one another on either side. Directly opposite from the door we just entered is a wide hearth with a fire already lit and a kettle hanging above it. Something is cooking in the kettle and smells wonderful. My stomach growls in approval, and I suddenly can’t remember the last time I ate.

“Please shut the door if you would, Brahkis.” The Grackles spans the room, heading for the hearth, where he bends over to stir and smell his concoction.

I turn to comply, and right before I push the door shut, Shadow daringly squeezes through the gap, no doubt drawn by the savory scent and promise of a meal. I am unsure whether the Shaper wants a wild animal in his home, but I let it pass and press the door closed until it catches.

“You’ve done quite well for yourself,” I mention. “Did you build all this out here yourself?”
The Grackle is ladling portions of a thick broth into bowls. “You could say I had help,” he answers but doesn’t elaborate.

“You said when we met that you wanted to show us the danger you were speaking of…” Rhiannon cut in, killing the small talk while accepting a steaming bowl from our host.

“Ah, yes,” he responds. The Grackle hands me my bowl and sets his down atop the mantle. “We will need the fire for this,” he says, picking up a small, square-cut hide and using it to grab the hot handle of the kettle. He lifts it from above the flame and sets it on an empty patch of stone. From a tall, thin canister on the mantle he pours powder into his hand and tosses it into the fire.

The flame surges and turns bright green. “Look into it,” he says. “Both of you.” He waits for Rhiannon and I to step closer and gaze into the hearth.

“What are we looking for?” I ask.

“Relax your eyes, but try not to blink,” the Grackle instructs. “You will see it momentarily.”

I do as I’m told but wonder whether living alone in the deep woods has perhaps touched this man in the head. I try to remain patient, though all I see is a sheet of dancing green flame. Shadow starts whining behind me and I set my bowl on the floor, hoping there’s another where that came from.

Then, I see it. A gasp from Rhiannon tells me she does too. An image has painted itself across the surface of the flames, and I can distinctly make out the shape of the Great Mountain, its slopes covered in perpetual snow.

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