Kaerak pulled her tattered cloak tighter as the wind howled in the valley. With her she carried the dead corpse of a rabbit and a lean mahogany bow. She shivered, and lifted her pale face to the sky as a snowflake landed on the ground. Kaerak found the rocky outcropping that jutted up, terrible and steep. She sighed and as she neared the outcropping began to make her the ascent slowly. With the bow slung on her back and one hand burdened with the rabbit, it was hard going.
Finally Kaerak reached a small tunnel in the outcropping, and wriggled her way through. The tunnel wound this way and that, and opened upon a small chamber. A small cave stream ran through, and a fire burned in the stony centre, the smoke billowing and rising out of a small hole in the ceiling. Kaerak walked to the fire and said:
“All is well, my sisters. I have returned.”
Two huddling shapes emerged from the shadowy darkness, and the taller one sighed with relief to see Kaerak. But the girl was busily spearing the rabbit onto a spit and roasting it over the fire. Formality had long since proved useless in the cave. Kaerak shuffled her feet while their apparent meal crackled.
“What news do you bring?” one of the girls asked, but knew her sister would have none. Even if the exiled Kaerak had seen anybody, it would be suicide to ask such a question. Kaerak shrugged.
“You should know that I wouldn’t risk my life like that, Venix,” she answered harshly. Venix slunk back into the shadows, a bit hurt.
“However,” Kaerak said, “I overheard some hunters when I was out. The War is fiercer than ever, now.” Venix sighed. The War had been going on for centuries, first it was the Empire against all the free countries of Amdacidra, then the War stopped for about ten years. In that amount of time, the Elves and Humans took their own sides and began fighting. Fiercer fighting couldn’t be a good omen.
“Is that it, then?” Venix asked, a bit relieved that times were not so bad as last year, when hunters would not dare show their faces this far away from their small villages.
“What happens now, Kaerak?” the other girl asked. Kaerak turned around, blond hair whipping into her face. The girl was small, only six. Kaerak gave her a weak smile. She took a deep breath.
“Well, Rikka, we will stay here a while longer. If there are hunters, there could be spies. The king thinks we are dead, and if he finds out we are alive, it’s a beheading for us,” she said. Rikka drew back in fear. Sorrow stabbed Kaerak like a silver knife.
Such a young soul should not be tormented like this, Kaerak thought fiercely. How could a king be so cruel as to exile a child so young, when she did naught but cry in fright of the weaponry the soldiers beheld?
Kaerak scooped Rikka up and held her on her hip. Venix was turning the rabbit, and the fire burst into bright sparks. Venix jumped back, and landed in the stream. Her reddish brown hair soaked, and she gasped. Kaerak laughed slightly and Rikka giggled girlishly.
“Well, I’ll show that king. I’ll stab his guts out!” she said. Venix made a face at Rikka. “But you don’t have a sword yet. I’m thirteen and don’t have one. The only girl who wields a weapon here is Kaerak, and that’s just a little bow,” she said.
Kaerak blushed, though she didn’t know why. There wasn’t anything to blush about. Rikka yawned suddenly.
“Dinner’s done,” Venix said cheerily, but cast a worried look in Kaerak’s direction. She knows what I said is true. If there are hunters out, there may very well be spies looking for the Elves. And if they see us. . . Kaerak shuddered at the dark thought. As they all chewed on the rabbit, the sunlight diminished and the only light came from the fire. Rikka yawned again and crept away from the fire. She fell asleep quickly, and her older sisters followed.
Sun filtered through hole in the cave. Kaerak groaned and turned over. She gave a hoarse yell as she saw Rikka grinning at her.
“What are you doing?” she gasped. Rikka giggled quietly. She turned around and started pulling something into view. Kaerak frowned. What was that?
“I got a spear. I’m a warrior!” Rikka said proudly. She showed Kaerak a knobby twig with a rock on the top. It was tied there with some twine, which had come from the small bag the sisters had taken with them. Kaerak smiled wearily at the small girl.
“This is no spear, I’m afraid. And it’s too heavy for you, and I want you to get rid of it,” Kaerak said. Rikka’s lower lip quivered, and she added quickly, “when you’re older. But you won’t be able to use it unless you make it shorter.” Rikka grinned.
“Thank you Kaerak!” she squealed. Kaerak laughed a bit and woke Venix up. “Not now, I’m asleep!” she mumbled. Rikka stooped down to her ear. “Wake up, NOW!” she yelled. Venix sat up straight.
“I’m awake! Just make sure Miss Loudmouth doesn’t wake me up anymore,” Venix mumbled. Kaerak grinned and went over to the stream. She took a gulp of water, and saw Venix beside her.
After that, Venix braided her hair. She left out a little, but Kaerak didn’t mind. But it was a shame, she thought, that Venix knew how to braid and her fifteen year old sister did not. She shrugged it off.
“I have to go out again,” she said. Rikka and Venix nodded.
The snow lay heavily on the ground. It crunched under Kaerak’s boots, and a few flakes lay on her blond hair. Her blue eyes sparkled from underneath her long fringe.
She wrapped her cloak around herself tighter, and froze suddenly. Someone was following her through the valley, and somebody shrouded in shadow. Kaerak turned her head slightly, and saw a flash of red fly across her view. A bird. Yes, it was a bird, she thought uncertainly. But she saw the flash again, and heard a cry. Something bumped into her and Kaerak drew her knife, but put it back when she saw what it was.
A small, shaggy haired boy lay on the ground, panting heavily. His dark, deep set eyes darted around fearfully. He let out another yell as his eyes landed on Kaerak. The boy quickly stood up and began to run again. Kaerak grabbed his red cloak.
“Are you a spy, boy?” she asked harshly. His eyes widened with fear, and he shook his head. Kaerak loosened her grip slightly, but only enough to let him know she wasn’t going to hurt him.
“No, I ain’t no spy. Jest a hunter, if ye likes. I was jest lookin’ around, and, and, I ain’t no spy!” he said. The boy stomped his foot. Kaerak smiled at him.
“You can stop talking like that now. I know you, but I don’t think you would remember me,” she said. Indeed, the boy was a friend from years ago. He looked at her curiously, then his brown eyes sparkled.
“It’s Kaerak!” he said. She had let go of his cloak some time ago, but didn’t remember quite when. The boy was kicking the snow around with a scuffed boot.
“Yes, and you’re name is Nelen!” she said. Kaerak and Nelen stared at each other a while longer, then Kaerak spun around suddenly.
“Good to know a captive’s name, isn’t it?” A voice said. Kaerak screamed, and saw Nelen crumple to the ground. Something hit her head, and she slipped out of consiousness.