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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 25

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

Branches scratch my arm as I push my way through the thicket. I can’t believe I’m trying to find the Grackle’s home when I couldn’t really see the way the first time, but I’d hoped something would come back to me. Now, I am lost. Completely.

Once again, Shadow seems cleverer than me, easily skirting the worst of the brambles and interlacing branches. He looks back at me and whines, no doubt wondering why I’m choosing to get stuck. Somehow, the way I came now looks even worse. I sigh. “I know you were forged for better than this …” I say as I reach around and untie the top loop that supports the blade of my clan’s namesake.

I use the massive falchion as a machete, cleaving through an entire section of undergrowth with two swings. I’m soon clear of it and Shadow resumes wandering ahead of me, his confidence restored.

Unsure of which direction is the best to proceed, I turn slowly in a full circle, looking for anything familiar. Seeing nothing, I close my eyes and listen. I sniff the air, hoping that perhaps the Grackle’s got a fire going, and traces of smoke will grant me a clue.

I hear the flapping of a bird’s wings, then a voice from only a few paces away startles me. “I wasn’t sure whether you wanted to be disturbed, but I felt that maybe you were seeking me out. Stranger, as you are, to this part of the forest … I expected you to be half-way to the Great Mountain by now.”

It’s the Grackle, of course, in human form, and he’s holding a wicker basket in both arms. It looks heavy. “I was looking for you,” I confirm. “Are you on some sort of errand?” I ask, lingering on his basket.

“Oh yes,” he says, looking at the lidded cargo in his arms. “I’m spoiling the Roaring Bears’ grain stores. It’s a special collection of mites and fungus that should do the trick. They’re having a very poor week, actually.”

“Are they, now?” I can’t help grinning. “It’s a tricky thing, but my conscience won’t allow me to leave until I oust the Roaring Bears. I’ve come to you for aid.”

“Well,” he says, setting down the basket. “I am nothing if not adaptable. I suppose the fastest way to get you to the Great Mountain is to foil these usurpers as quickly as possible, then? If we’re getting straight to it, I shan’t bother with these minor setbacks. What did you have in mind?”

I thrust the tip of my sword into the earth and lean on the hilt with both hands. “We need a way into the fort, obviously. We don’t have enough warriors to simply scale the wall en mass. They’d decimate us before we could start a proper fight, which they would probably win, anyway.”

The Grackle nods. I appreciate a realist.

“I was thinking about creating a diversion with the main force to gain their attention while sending a few men over the rear walls to open the gate from inside. But if they leave sentries or just happen to spot our grappling hooks, well, the whole plan is spoiled before it gets started. It’s more of a risk than I’d like to rely on.”

“Hmm.” The Grackle scratches his chin. “How many are you looking to get inside the fort, initially?”

I squint with one eye, visualizing the raid. “A dozen, perhaps.”

“Hmm,” the Grackles repeats, finally drawing his hand away from his face. “If you could succeed with eight, then I can facilitate a shadow-jump.”

“A shadow-jump?”

“I possess an enchanted object called a shadow-star. It’s an eight-sided object, and each side can support one jump. In practice, it would allow you to enter the shadow of my cloak, for instance, and emerge from a like-sized shadow elsewhere – within a limited range, of course. In this case, that jump would be within the fort.”

“Really?” I ask. “You can do that?”

“I can. However, I will not be personally jumping, so don’t even ask. Still, I shall stay close and use what incantations I can to aid the effort.”

“You have a wondrous power.” I lift my sword’s tip from the ground and spin the blade upward, watching the reflection of the light glint along its silver surface. I can’t help feeling that an unexplained power also rests within this weapon – almost as if it possesses its own purpose, waiting to be fulfilled.

My thoughts return to the Grackle. “Why is it you do not live at Treehorn Hall and use your Shaping to benefit the clan? You did say you are one of us, no?”

“Ha!” he replies. “I’ve seen how they treat you, and you only think differently. Can you imagine the distrust my presence would evoke? Every time a rainstorm washed away a garden or a disease infected a herd of sheep, I’d either be blamed or expected to fix it.” The Grackle shook his head. “No, Brahkis. I grew up with our people, and learned very early that being different frightens them.” He looked squarely at me. “Well, most of them, anyway.”

I understood. Like me, perhaps he felt a need to protect our kin while realizing that staying away from them was the easier path, too. “All right, then. If you would be so kind as to show me the best way out of this forsaken section of the wood – no offense – I shall return to Treehorn Hall and prepare our warriors for battle.” I knew that wouldn’t take long, for sadly, we barbarians always seem ready to spill blood. The harder part would be selecting men I could depend on to help carry out the shadow-jump.

“It’s this way, Brahkis.” The Grackle points a long finger to what I judge to be the southwest. “And why do you think I chose the place?” He winks.

“Tomorrow night, then. I will meet you after sunset on the hill I stood upon when we rescued the elwise girl.”

The Grackle nods. “Don’t bring torches unless you want to be seen. Fire can be spotted from the fort at that distance.”

I look down at Shadow, who has been patiently waiting for our conversation to end, and shake my head. “Wolves don’t need torches.”

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