The Dragons Of Arbor
Chapter 15: Tracker and Student

Copyright© 2007 by Sea-Life



Sid followed me without hesitation, and don't even ask how good that felt. We followed the river until we were out of sight of the village and then I stopped us. I slid out of the saddle and walked into the river, closing my eyes and calling up the river. I hadn't done this in a while, and I felt the power of it singing to me as I learned what the river could tell me. Sid was going to have questions, but that was okay. Now was not the time to be keeping secrets, not if my student's lives depended on it.

"They aren't at the camp, but there is sign they were. We need to ride there anyway and see if we can track them from that point." I said, mounting Spark again and heading us off again upstream as quickly as I could. I hadn't ever ridden a horse through here, so there was no known safe route that we could take at speed.

"The river could tell you that?" Sid asked.

"Yes, it can."

"Is this a Talent, or something more?"

"More. Much, much more. Unfathomably more." I answered. I hesitated for a moment, considering how to begin. "When your father placed the skystone around my neck, I was named Sparrow Dambro, and I was just a normal little girl, barely more than a babe, but now I am River Dambro."

"Transformation." Sid said. He understood! Immediately, he understood!"

"Yes!"

"Remember my putting my hands to the ground and closing my eyes?"

"Yes." I answered.

"When my mother put the skystone around my neck, I was named Mat McKesson, but now I am Obsidian McKesson."

"Spirits!" I said.

"Exactly." Sid answered. Suddenly he pulled Grinder up beside me and leaned over from his horse and gave me a quick kiss. "I knew were going to be quite a pair, but I hadn't thought it would be quite like this."

We rode hard for about twenty minutes, as hard as the terrain let us, and there we were, the waterfall, the little pocket of a pool, the calm waters flowing out of it, the small shelf with its comfortable tree and sheltered location. It was perfect, except for the single grave marker beside the lean-to that I'd built there seemingly forever and a day ago.

"Spirits no!" I said throwing myself from Spark's back.

"Wait!" Sid said, and as quickly, he was beside me. He knelt and put a hand on the ground. "There's no body buried there, but there is something."

We walked over and Sid put a hand out in the air over the soft earth of the 'grave', and suddenly the ground pushed itself away from the marker and a column of stone sprouted up out of Arbor itself, and resting on its top was a small clay pot.

"I think they may have left you a message." Sid suggested.

Folded up inside the clay pot was a piece of parchment. It was almost amusing to see that one side of it was the official banishment notice, which Joist Yauntz had posted with a flourish, I was sure. The other side was a hand written note in Spray's fine hand.

Dear River,

As you know, if you have come here to read this,
Scatter and I have been banished from the village.
You will hear from those in the village that
Scatter assaulted Link Yauntz. You know that
Scatter had to have a reason to attack that foul
little beast, and I will tell you more in that
regard when next we see you, do not fear.

We camped here for a full tenday, and then another
four days before deciding to make our way to
Seacroft and find you. We know it is a dangerous
journey on foot, and despite our expectation that
we will find you in Seacroft before you would ever
wind up here to read this, we have left this
message, both to give you some sign of our intent,
and some understanding of what happened to us if we
do not see you in Seacroft after all.

We shall leave our trail well marked. We plan to
make due south for half a day and then cut due west.
Please find us as we hope to find you, well and happy.

Love,

Scatter and Spray Diophre

"She signed it as a married couple would." I said. "They are both fourteen now, I believe."

"Based on what the folks back in the village told us, they have a tenday and a half lead on us. They're on foot and were on horseback."

"We'll be looking for sign from horseback. If we loose their trail we'll have to double back to the last sign and proceed on foot until we find the trail again." I said.

"They said well marked. We'll find them." Sid said.

"Can you find them?" I asked suddenly, an image of Sid, palm to the ground with his eyes closed.

"I can try. There are limits, and the soil doesn't carry as well as raw rock does." Sid answered. "I'll try for some sign tonight when we stop."

We rode until dark, and we did see obvious sign right away. We found where they turned to begin traveling west, and it was sad to think how short a distance a half a day on foot was, but they were in survival mode, which was good, they weren't rushing across the landscape, they were traveling in good order and with their own safety in mind, as I'd taught them.

We found a likely spot to set up camp and went through the mundane tasks, gathering wood, making a fire, feeding and watering the horses and making our evening meal. Once we were settled after eating, Sid lay face down on a rocky outcrop nearby, bare-footed and palms flat, with his check resting on the bare stone as well. He closed his eyes and I could almost feel him drawing power to himself as he worked. He lay motionless for a long time, but finally stirred, sitting up to put his foot covers and boots back on.

"There was no hint of them for as far as I could reach, about ten miles or so." Said said. "Of course they could be a mile away and camped in a tree and I wouldn't be able to sense it."

There was no meditation or exercise in the morning, we didn't even take the time to heat a cup of Cintosa. We chewed a piece of jerky apiece and shared a wineskin as we rode.

"I'm doing something." Sid said as we rode. "You probably won't notice anything. I'm using one of the family gifts, something you'll learn more about, but I'm giving you, Grinder and Spark a little of what we call 'Light reinforcement work'. As we go, this may allow us to move more quickly, travel faster. It might have other effects, if I keep it up."

"What kind of effects?" I asked, suspiciously.

<The kind that will let us share our very thoughts.> He said. Only he hadn't said. I had heard the words in my mind, but he hadn't spoken them.

"Oh." I said, not knowing what else to say.

By midday, I felt like we had covered a lot of territory. Spray and Scatter had indeed left a well marked trail, and it was no trouble to follow at all. There were even small messages written on some of the stones, written with the end of a stick that had been blackened in a fire. Marking time, mostly. We did stop for midday meal, but only so Sid could commune with the rocks. I described it to him exactly that way.

"How do you feel when you commune with the rocks?"

"'Commune with the rocks', eh?" He replied. "I don't know. How do you feel when you commune with the river?"

"I feel like I am the river."

"I feel like I am the rock, but more than that I guess. I feel like I am that piece of Arbor itself."

"Tonight. We should catch them sometime tonight." Sid said when he pulled himself out of the rock's thoughts. "We may have to ride through evening meal, but we should catch them tonight."

The news kept my mood elevated for the rest of the day. They perked up even more when we hit a small stream. It quickly became obvious that Spray and Scatter were following it. I was able to determine with only a moment's contact that the young couple were now only a few miles ahead of us, and headed back our way! I told Sid what the river had told me, and we picked up our pace even more. The river here was running through a smooth stone canyon made up of smooth rounded rock that seemed to flow from feature to feature without interruption. We came into a small little pocket of soil with a few small trees and a patch of cool grass.

"They have to be coming back here." Sid said.

"Yeah, this is too perfect a camp site."

We set up camp ourselves, gathering driftwood, tossed into the nooks and crannies of the canyon during flood waters, and I let Sid do the hunting while I once again tended the fire and got the water boiling. I decided it was time to break out the best of what we had and I had a slab of bacon cooking down and a pot of boiling water cooking a collection of carrots and green beans.

"Rabbit again." Sid said, coming back with another pair.

"Rabbit stew!" I said, motioning to the pot.

We skinned the rabbits and quickly cut the meat off the bones and added it to the pan with the bacon to brown it a little before tossing it into the pot. While I was keeping the rabbit pieces and bacon from burning, Sid walked off towards the river and seemingly plucked a flat stone from nowhere, setting it near the fire.

"Campfire biscuits sound good?"

While Sid made dough, I began to season the stew. We had worked efficiently, and with almost perfect coordination in our efforts.

"Should it be so easy for us to work together?" I asked.

"Who knows? There's nothing normal about the two of us, together or apart."

Everything was cooking. The biscuits wouldn't go on the fire until just before we wanted to eat. The rough dough was going to make for hard, thick biscuits. They wouldn't be all that appetizing on their own, but dipped in the rabbit stew, they would become a delicious treat.

"Here they come." Sid whispered. "They've caught scent of our fire, and the stew, so they're approaching cautiously. This close to the stream, I was able to sense them now as well.

"Well, don't just stand there letting the sun go down around you. Come on into camp and give me a hug." I said loudly.

"River?" Came the questioning squeal from Spray.

"Who else?" I answered.

The next few minutes were a blur of hugs and kisses and confused questions in both directions before Sid cleared his throat, reminding me he was there.

"Spray, Scatter, this is Obsidian McKesson. Obsidian, this is Spray and Scatter Diophre." I said.

"A Pleasure meeting both of you, and finding you both well." Sid said.

"I can tell you obviously found our message." Scatter said.

"Where'd you find this guy?" Spray said at the same time.

"Questions later. We've got rabbit stew and biscuits. Who's ready for evening meal?"

We got everyone settled in with a cup of Cintosa and of course Scatter and Spray had to dig in their packs to find their bowls and spoons. While they did that, Sid dropped heavy spoonfuls of dough onto the flat rock that had been heating by the fire. The sounds of the moist dough sizzling on the stone made my stomach rumble.

The biscuits and the stew were delicious. There were quite a few minutes of appreciative silence as we dug in. Finally Scatter broke the silence.

"Do the two of you always eat so well on the trail, or was this laid on for us?"

"We saw you coming back this way, and decided you had to be heading here for the night." I answered. "Sid got us the rabbits, but I decided to splurge with our supplies and make something a little more substantial than normal for us, to celebrate our reunion."

"What made you turn back anyway?" Sid asked.

"The Spirit-cursed river turns into a waterfall a couple miles further downstream."Spray said. "Twenty feet straight down a smooth wall of rock, and no sign of any way to get down from there. We were coming back here for the night, but we figured we'd have to backtrack quite a bit further to find another route. This one was a dead end."

"We never expected you to be looking for us, the note was more of a token gesture than anything else." Scatter said. "Thumbing our noses at the people of Oereia and saying farewell, just in case."

"And the Scatter and Spray Diophre signature?" I asked.

"Utter defiance and a reminder to Joist and Link Yauntz that they do not rule the world, only one small fishing village." Spray said with a scornful tone.

"And your parents?" I added.

"Why were you back in the village?" Scatter asked, changing the subject.

"Remember those reports of smugglers using the old smuggler's trail? We're investigating that."

"Spirits! Was the fleet in when you got to the village?" Spray asked.

"No, we only really saw Floe, Tremor and Blink. They told us about you two and we headed straight for the waterfall." I answered.

"There was a lot more talk about that after you left. Joist told everyone to stop worrying about what was going on there, that he had an arrangement with the people involved, and that was the end of it." Scatter said. "If you mentioned to anyone in the village that you were investigating the smugglers, word will get to them."

I had to think back on our conversation in Oereia. We had never gotten past the revelation about Spray and Scatter's banishment. Our purpose remained unknown.

"We didn't reveal our purpose, you two were my first concern, and once we knew you'd been banished, we were focused on finding you both."

"Pretty young to be so full of maternal instincts, don't you think?" Sid asked.

"Well, looking on these two, its going to have to be considered the concerns of a big sister! You both have done a lot of growing up since I saw you last!"

"Some was just nature taking its course, and some was forced on us." Scatter said. "The situation in the village didn't take long to deteriorate after you left."

"Even our parents couldn't seem to hold onto their good opinions of us once Joist and Link began spewing their poison!" Spray said. "Oh they lasted a little while, but eventually they bowed to the pressure, just like everyone else."

"If we hadn't been providing all the fresh game everyone had grown accustomed to while you were here, Joist would have probably acted much sooner. As it was, we spent most of a season feeling like outcasts in our own homes.

With the remnants of the meal, and the cooking of it cleaned up, we had time to sit and continue the conversation. Sid took a seat with his back against a large piece of driftwood, an old snag really that had been here so long it was partially buried in the soil, and the old limbs broken off and worn smooth by time and water.

I brought my cup of Cintosa over and slid in beside him, snuggling up comfortably against his side. I think I surprised him, but then I hadn't rewarded him yet for telling Floe that he was mine. I glanced up to see his expression, and he leaned down and gave me a kiss.

"So you have found someone yourself." Spray said. "I'd wondered what your relationship might be. You seemed to be comfortable with each other, but hesitant."

"This is a very new relationship, but one that has been brewing for a very long time." Sid said. "Since we were both barely able to walk."

"Ooh! A story!" Spray said, snuggling into Scatter's side herself, preparing to hear it.

"A long, strange, complicated story, ideally suited for the long trail ahead of us." I said. "So we won't hear any of it tonight. Are you both still training?"

"Yes!" Came their simultaneous and proud responses.

"Well I recently have found a new teacher, so in the morning we will all have some exercise I think. Something new as well. I have been learning to meditate."

"Right then." Scatter said. "Save the exercising for the morning."

He said it to be funny, but Spray gave him an elbow in the ribs and probably blushed, but it was difficult to tell by the light of the fire. The sky had darkened completely while we ate.

"Spray, I won't ask how completely you have moved into that wedded state your message implied, its not my place. But I trust your mother discussed the essentials of ensuring that you remain the owner of your own body?"

Spray nodded and smiled. Well, the body language was answering the question I hadn't asked anyway. My body language may have been answering unspoken questions of its own, because Sid leaned down and kissed me, just behind my earlobe, sending a shiver through me, and then whispered in my ear.

"River Dambro, will you share my furs tonight?"

The exact damned phrase. He somehow knew the phrase, the polite, formal phrase the Zadaru use to express a certain kind of interest. I turned my head to look up, sliding up somehow and closer and found his lips with mine. This kiss had some heat to it, in a way that out others had not. I whispered into Sid's ear.

"Tonight and every other night, from this night on into forever."

That was a very exact phrase borrowed from the Zadaru as well. I looked into Sid's eyes to see if he knew what it meant. He nodded his head slightly and smiled. For a moment I wondered if he had seen the meaning in my thoughts, but then realized it didn't matter. We slid back into another kiss, more heated than the last.

Among the Zadaru, that exchange, said out loud and in front of witnesses would have served as an official marriage ceremony. Whispered to each other, it was a promise.

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