Beasts of Four Kingdoms: Rebirth
CAD SLEPT AROUND THE BURNING FIRE with the other men that night before leaving the next day early in the morning. He was aroused by Julius kicking a live coal at his hand, giving it a slight burn. He only reduced his screams by rushing over to the cooking quarters and dousing the left over porridge all over his hand from the day before. When he returned the men stared at him in shock. Cad finally looked over at his appearance and realized that he looked like a bear caught with honey.
“You do realize that Pika always returns from gathering fresh berries at around Lionrise, right Cad?” Alaric asked, looking very embarrassed for Cad. Cad grit his teeth and glared at the smirking Julius. It was a trap. If I say “yes” then it sounds like I was too hungry to wait like a patience hunter, but if I say I didn’t, and then I also don’t look patience. I must practice it now, before I am seduced to
shooting Julius in the neck later on today!
After packing their belongings, Cad spotted Iris and Pika traveling along the rear of the group, chatting away like regular siblings. They both carried a large pack on their back, just as Cad had, except he had his bow and quiver at his demand.
“Hiyah, Cap,” Pika said, saluting.
“G’d morning,” Cad replied, “But my name is Cad, not Cap.”
Pika nodded his head shrewdly. “Oh, that’s makes sense! Except, what does ‘Cad’ mean?”
Cad laughed. “It’s short for ‘Cadmar’. It means, ‘brave warrior’, in Eunna. Speaking of which, why don’t you all speak it?”
“It’s the olden language,” Iris explained. “These days, our people only speak the language of the stonemen. Only the very old and wise speak Eunna, or those who wish to read the Timber Scrolls.”
“I know a dwarf that knows Eunna: Alfrick,” Cad said. “He knows the Timber Scrolls by heart, you see. He’s fascinated by our culture and way of life and nature.”
“Oh is he?” Iris said, which made Cad wonder if she was mocking him or if she was just making conversation.
They continued with their trekking, through the forest, across a small brook, up a steep incline and finally down into a deep gorge. The gorge was dark and dusty, the thin strips of light barely making a difference between them and the darkness. Cad felt Pika grab both his and Iris’s hands. Even with her stubborn attitude, he could tell that Iris was frightened. Low dark noises could be heard for miles and each movement echoed without the abyss. The hard walls of the gorge loomed over them like giants made of stone.
“Iris,” Pika whispered, “I’m scared.” Iris shushed him, but not before Julius heard and held up behind them.
“Awe, does the mouse want his sister to feed him his milk?” Julius scoffed, grinning.
“Leave him alone, Julius,” Iris growled. “He’s only a child.”
Julius gave her an exaggerated look of shock “Why, Iris; I didn’t think there was need of offense. We were just playing, weren’t we, Mouse?”
“Stop it,” Cad answered in a firm. He stood in Julius’s way and wrapped his fingers around his bow.
“Stop playing these childish games.”
Julius snorted. “Speaking of children, I’m guessing little Caddy got hungry in the middle of the night and finished the rest of our porridge didn’t he?” Julius didn’t get to finished when Cad leapt forward and grabbed his throat.
“Cad, please!” Iris pleaded, trying to act calmly. “If you hurt him, you’ll only be hurting yourself.”
Cad suddenly remembered a time when he and Alfrick were in the forest alone, talking about their day. Cad had informed the dwarf that one of the boys at the blacksmith shop had taunted him and called him ‘Bird Boy’ and threw breadcrumbs at him. “With one quick flinch of a knife I could of sliced off his ear!” Cad had said.
“Now wait, Cadmar,” Alfrick had said, “Don’t try and seek out revenge. Because if you hurt him, his death will also leave you the shame and loneliness of a murderer. So if you seek out to hurt him, you’ll be also hurting yourself.”
Back then Cad didn’t know what that even meant, but now, as Iris said those exact words to him, he slowly loosened his grip around the smirking Julius until the lad’s neck was free. He brushed off his clothes and then bumped past Cad, hissing, “Next time, try thinking for yourself except listening to the leaf girl.” As Julius walked on a head of the group, Cad glanced at the staring Pika who whispered:
“Could you teach me that?”
“Why?” Cad asked.
“Because, did you see how worried Julius looked? I’ve never look so, so frightened. I bet you scared him, especially since you looked like a wolf!”
“No,” said Iris, “But you acted like one. I couldn’t believe you’d resort to that kind of, of barbaric attack on Julius! Why do you think the King is trying to get rid of us? Because there’s been rumor that we act like wild animals, and if he sees you acting the way you just did, our people will have no hope!”
“I was only trying to help you and your brother!” Cad retorted.
Iris gave him a cold glare and answered, “My brother and I can take care of ourselves.” And marched forward and then disappeared behind the bodies of Bear and Prudentius. Cad sighed, shook his head and jogged on to talk to Prudentius.
“Do you know why Iris always acts as she does?” he inquired.
Prudentius smiled. “Oh, you mean the way she watches you?”
“What?” Cad cried. His yell echoed throughout the barriers of the gorge. The Baron Stilicho turned, gave whoever it was a ‘shh’ signal and then continued leading. “I’m sorry,” Cad apologized to the elder man. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“That’s because you haven’t noticed, but I have. How else do you think I am sixty-eight years old?”
“You don’t look that old,” Cad said. “You look around fifty, even forty!”
“Yes, I may look like that on the outward appearance, but my mind is that of the wise wolf Starfang, removed guardian of Hansgard.”
Cad looked puzzled. “Who’s that?” he said, almost too loudly.
“Quiet!” Stilicho whispered, the walls carrying out his message throughout the whole troop. “We must be very silent. This is the place where the kohorra come here to die. We must respect their deaths and ashes.” Oops, Cad thought, so that’s what the dust was. Suddenly, he felt a burning in his right foot, and look down to see the ashes were slowly scorching the sole of his boot. Thankfully, it was made of elk, the toughest skin in the forest.
“Excuse, uh, Baron,” Cad softly called, “what else do the kohorra do here?”
Stilicho laughed and replied, “Everything the legends say they do. As I said, this is where the old phoenixes die. And the new ones come alive.”
“What?” came the cry from everyone one in the group.
“Shut up!” Stilicho turned about and roared. The sound flooded the whole gorge, filling not only the abyss itself but the inners of everyone in it. Cad felt a cold shiver run up his spine and a deep burning in his boot.
In a matter of seconds, the piles of ‘dust’ suddenly sprouted, taking upon themselves wings, then feathers and finally the head of a fiery monster. Two shot out right in front of Cad, seizing the ashes on the bottom of his boot to become a body part of the phoenixes form. With the two of them in their full form, they each screeched at Cad, then pulled their heads back to breathe out their burning death.
Cad ducked, feeling the ginger flames warm his back. He quickly regained his balanced and fired two arrows at the burning bird. Cad had heard of the kohorra but had never, ever thought of as seeing one up close, especially in its birthing den.
The arrows struck the flaming bird, but burnt to dust as soon as pierced its flesh. But the bird still screeched and blew more fire from its beak, letting it rain all over the men and Iris.
Finally, Stilicho yelled in a mighty voice:
The band of woodsfolk hurried, following Stilicho as their leader. Cad followed behind, but he could shoot so many phoenixes as there was. It seemed that as he shot one, a second would pop up in flames to take the first’s place as it bellowed in minor pain.
Cad knew that his was his second arrow and fired it at one of them hovering against the wall. The phoenix dashed to the ground, the burning arrow hitting the stone wall and breaking to pieces. A new burning phoenix leaned over to the Cad, started beginning its fiery rain of fire when an iron hammer struck it in the face. The bird stumbled backwards, shook itself, making its flame die and leaving a dark red bird the size of an eagle. Cad turned and saw Honorius, empty handed while his brother hurled another hammer at another inflamed phoenixes.
“Run, lad, run!” Darius bellowed as he released the weapon. The hammer knocked two birds in the head, making them fall senseless to the ground. “Now!”
Cad picked himself up on his feet and ran forward, glancing to see the brothers getting ready to follow. Good, Cad decided. I can’t let them die like Beck. I can’t.
Cad stopped, sliding along the dirty and stone ground. He looked up, he looked down then he looked up again and listened sharply.
“Help! Somebody help us!”