Chapter 7 - The Walk
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Rhavin rubbed his eyes, still slightly dazed from his collision with the cave wall. Anxiety and confusion clouded the questions that soared through his mind. Had he been saved by this beast? Was this who he had seen glimpses of following them? What does it want with us? Rhavin’s thoughts were interrupted by the movement of the monster. Large hairy arms threw the broken horse off Mykul. Rhavin couldn’t help but feel regret for being the reason Wind wouldn’t feel the air rushing past her as she ran anymore.
“Rhav. Rhav, I can’t move my legs.” Mykul said calmly. He began to run his hands over his legs, grabbing and flopping them agains’t the cave floor. “I can’t feel my legs Rhavin!” Mykul’s voice shook with every word. “No no no no no no! Come on!” The echoes of his pain reverberated within the cold grey walls.
“Hold on Myk, I’m coming!” Rhavin disregarded the presence of the minotaur. It didn’t seem to want to kill him, and if it did he wouldn’t be able to stop it anyway. What he could do right now is help his friend. Rhavin grabbed Mykul under the arms and attempted to pull him up. When Rhavin began to let go, Mykul slumped back onto the cave floor.
“No! This can’t be happening. Please, no. Please no!” Mykul’s words transitioned into sobbing and he lost the will to sit upright. Slumping back down, Mykul laid on the cave floor, tears staining his face.
“Healer, close. Couple day.” The gutteral sound came from the minotaur. “I help. I know .” The minotaur reached down, and with an unexpected tenderness propped Mykul up against the cave wall so he could sit upright. Rhavin knew he never should have let Mykul come along. Could he trust this beast to bring them to a healer? He thought. If it wanted us dead, it could have already killed us many times over by now. He decided he would trust their savior.
“Where? Where is this healer?” Rhavin asked, looking the beast in its eyes.
“Forest, hut. Close.” It responded. The words came out strained, in a voice that sounded like it was never meant to speak anything more than grunts and roars.
“We need to go, Rhavin! I can’t be a cripple, my life has just begun!” Mykul was exasperated, for good reason. His hands explored his limp legs, and he laid against the cave wall. The minotaur began to shuffle towards the cave entrance.
“Get horse. Need leave, not safe.” It spoke to Rhavin. Mykul’s quarter horse was tied up to a tree outside the cave and would no doubt be spooked off if the minotaur went to grab it. Rhavin accepted the command and went to retrieve the horse. He didn’t see any better options than listening to the guidance of who saved their lives. As Rhavin got further from the cave the skin twitching lessened. There must be some kind of innate magic with minotaurs as well as trolls. The uneasy feeling in his gut never left. Whether it was from the magic of the creature, or the guilt he felt for Mykul, he didn’t know.
Untying the horse, Rhavin began formulating plans for the future. If he was going to end up encountering more things of this nature on his journey, he needed to get stronger. His mind drifted to his brother. Dario was always sure of mind. He always had a plan, and almost always was successful. That’s what Rhavin wanted to be like. Learning to control his magic was going to be his next goal, but he needed a teacher. Where do you find a learned mage in a nation that has outlawed magic? There had to be a way. He needed to be able to control more than the weather.
Walking back into the cave he felt the skin twitching again, and with it the putrid smell of the trolls blood. It was giving off fumes that stung Rhavin’s nose. Is the smell the reason that it wasn’t safe to stay? He had smelt things that made it feel like his nose was burning, but he thought it might be literally burning his nose.
As Mykul and the minotaur came into view he was shocked at the scene in the cave. The beast was holding Mykul in its arms, lightly stroking his head. It reminded him of the way a man would pet a dog in his arms. Rhavin led the horse over to the two. When he got to them, the beast lightly picked Mykul up and placed him onto the horse. It gently put each of his feet in the stirrups and handed him the reins.
The tenderness of the monster was unfathomable to Rhavin. Everything he had ever read about them was horrendous. Stories tell of minotaurs slaughtering humans and gorging on their flesh for mere amusement. He had read accounts of travelers that had encountered them in their travels. They would speak of how they would toy with the humans: only injuring them enough to prevent any hope of escape, letting them bleed out, or even feasting on flesh while the victims still drew breath.
“Move quick. Troll come.” The minotaur guided Mykul and his horse out of the cave, one hand on Mykul’s lower back keeping him steady on the mount. Mykul was quiet, eyes half closed as if in a trance. Shock and adrenaline drained from him, he looked like a shell of what he once was. If Rhavin could do anything to save his old friend, he would do it. He couldn’t lose the one person he had left.
The minotaur led them at a steady walk towards what Rhavin guessed was Northeast. While it was still deep forest, it would technically bring them closer to his destination. He was glad for that at least. The map he had with him didn’t show anything they could be going towards, this healer must have been a hermit.
As the walk was nearing several hours, Rhavin began to wonder about this “monster.” He asked himself if the stories about minotaurs were wrong. It obviously saved their lives, and was trying to help Mykul. What’s wrong with me that I still don’t trust this thing? Rhavin thought. Was it actually the ingrained stories he had read about? Was it the unease in his stomach and the tingling on his skin? He couldn’t decide. The only thing he could do was be wary. His head swiveled in all directions and he looked for any signs of danger. The touch of magic was held just out of reach; he would expire before he let anyone kill his friend.
Unfortunately for him, Mykul ended up being right about the weather. Rain fell upon them, bringing with it shivers and memories of warm fire. Rhavin attempted to conjure a fireball in his hand, something to keep his teeth from chattering, but the most he could get was a few orange flashes of light. Nature had won out in this battle. He resigned himself to the wet journey.
Rhavin could almost tell that dawn was upon the travellers. Mykul had fallen asleep, and the only reason he didn’t fall off the horse was the steady hand of the minotaur. Rhavin felt the exhaustion in his muscles taking over. He didn’t know if he could last through another day without rest. There were no visible signs of wear on the minotaur, but he needed rest.
“Uh, Minotaur?” He called out. The beast turned around, and with one of its large bovine eyes looked at him expectantly. “I’m not sure what I should call you, but we need to rest. I’m going to give out, and the horse hasn’t had rest in days. We can’t keep on like this.
“Rest soon. No yet.” The gruff voice responded. With that said, it turned around and resumed its walk to the North-East. Wherever they were going, the beast knew how to get there in a straight line. The minotaur stopped once more and turned back to Rhavin. “Sam,” it said gruffly.
“Is that your name?” Rhavin asked. The only response received was a nod of its head. Sam. That’s the name of our savior. Learning its name made Rhavin feel more at ease. He was saved by Sam, not just a beast. The name changed Rhavin’s outlook on the forest. Rustles in the leaves weren’t as threatening, the shadows of the trees no longer haunted him. Sam was here to help, and they would fix Mykul together. Sam’s motivation didn’t matter to Rhavin, he was willing to pay the price for his friend. No matter the cost.
The sun was high in the sky, half hidden by the gray clouds by the time Sam decided it was safe to stop. Rhavin knew it had to be past midday. His eyes fought him, threatening to close if he dropped his guard. Mykul was still passed out, requiring Sam’s hand to keep him steady. Luckily, the rain had stopped and the adventurers were slowly drying in the chilled wind.
The spot Sam chose wasn’t anything special. It looked as if it was the same copse of firs that they had started their journey in. Rhavin wasn’t excited to sleep exposed on wet fir and pine needles, but the thought of staying awake any longer was unfathomable. He had trusted Sam this far, and his clouded mind couldn’t come up with any reason to argue. Sam unsaddled Mykul and laid him under the bristles of a fir, Rhavin decided it was a good idea. He laid down near Mykul and the last thing he saw was Sam unsaddling the horse.
“Tell me Rhavin, what does honor mean to you?” Arnvold said. His lectures had become almost a daily occurance. Every survival lesson, every arcane drill, and almost every meal were followed by these kinds of questions. While they were questions based on his opinions, Rhavin felt there were wrong answers.
“Honor is what you get when you win a battle. When the knights fight, they always say it’s for honor.” Rhavin responded. He had only been with Arnvold a year, and in this year he had been asked more of these questions than the sixteen with his father.
“Being brave, I guess.” The uncertainty grew with every word he spoke.
“Well you have part of it right. Bravery is important. It’s also about being loyal, honest, and generous. Eventually you’re going to be out in the world on your own, without any guidance. You’ll need to know what kind of man you want to be.” Arnvold paced the dock as he spoke. The small lake where Rhavin had first landed was a common location for his lessons. Arnvold would tell him that he couldn’t let fear control him.
Initially Rhavin hated the lake. It was where he fell into the water, and it was where he was attacked by those killer frogs. The lake was a constant source of anxiety for a long time. However, as the lessons grew in number, Rhavin began to enjoy the lake. Arnvold taught him that he only feared it because he didn’t understand it. He taught him to rub leftweed on his legs before swimming; greenies hated the scent of leftweed. The more Arnvold taught him about the land around him, the more it felt like a sanctuary rather than a trap.
“Do you think I haven’t been honorable?” Rhavin asked. Why does it always feel like I’m being attacked? Maybe it was the phrasing, but Arnvold’s lectures always made Rhavin feel like he wasn’t enough.
Arnvold stopped pacing as Rhavin asked the question. He sat down on the dock cross legged and motioned for Rhavin to sit beside him. Rhavin obliged. He knew that the accusatory tone he felt must not be the intention. Arnvold only wanted to help him. Guidance, and sanctuary had been his gifts for the last year.
“Eventually, you’re going to get yourself in dangerous situations. Somehow danger always follows those who use magic. The world is cruel, and without magic you’ll just be a helpless boy. So when you get yourself into a situation..” Arnvold patted Rhavin on the shoulder before resting his arm and pulling him in tighter. “A situation where you feel trapped, you’re going to use magic. Now magic just may get you out of that situation, but it will put you in all kinds of others.” Rhavin nodded along. He thought he understood what he was talking about. All the stories Rhavin had heard about mages were always complicated.
“Because I can use magic, it’s more important for me to be honorable then?” Rhavin asked. He figured he knew where Arnvold was getting at, but it’s better to be sure he thought.
“It will be important to be able to live long enough to see your potential, even more important if you do. With the kind of power mages have, it’s imperative they understand what it means to be a good man. Too many get lost in the power.” While Arnvold had all kinds of these lessons, most were taught with an air of levity. Today, Rhavin felt it was more important. The expression on his teacher's face swapped from the serious demeanor to a playful smirk. “If you remember honor, you’ll be able to keep those close to you safe.”
After Arnvold’s speech finished, Rhavin was grabbed by the under arms and thrown into the lake. The water was refreshingly brisk on Rhavin’s skin. He paddled back up to the surface laughing, but when he looked around Arnvold was nowhere to be seen. Arvnold’s last words echoed in his head, “you’ll be able to keep those close to you safe.” The words felt like they were ringing from the enclosure of trees around him. Looking around for the source of the voice, Rhavin noticed bodies washing ashore the lake’s beach. He scrambled to see who they were and if he could help them.
Moving up to the first body he saw it was his mother. Mother? Rhavin shook her body. “Wake up! Wake up! Come on! Please!” His frantic cries did nothing to aid in her resuscitation. Not again! Tears welled up in his eyes, and as he looked around for anything to help he got a better look at the other bodies. It was his father and brother. Maybe he could help them, maybe it wasn’t too late for them he thought.
His father’s body was bloated and pale. His eyes were open reflecting pale gray saucers. Rhavin shook him as well. “Not you too!” With the lifeless body not responding, Rhavin looked towards his brother. To his surprise Dario’s head turned to him and spoke, “Why didn’t you keep us safe Rhavin? Where were you when I needed you? When we needed you?” Dario’s voice was scratchy and felt wrong.
“I’m sorry Dario, I didn’t know what I could do back then. I swear! I couldn’t do anything!” Rhavin’s face was wet with tears, his soaked body shivered, making the words he spoke waver. He didn’t understand, how were they here? Arnvold could help, where did he go?
“You will never know honor. Everyone you love has died!” Dario’s rough voice yelled.
“That’s wrong, I still have Arnvold and Eila… and Mykul!” Rhavin retorted. He might have failed his family, but his new family was still alive, and he would do all he could for them.
“I might still be alive, but my life is over.” Mykul’s voice came from all around him. It sent shivers down his spine. “You ruined my life Rhavin. I might as well be dead.”
With a gasp Rhavin jolted upright. The night air held a chill and Rhavin was shivering. Mykul was being spooned by Sam, kept warm by the large haired torso. Rhavin wiped at his eyes, finding them stained by tears. The dream only reinvigorated Rhavin, he wasn’t going to allow this to be Mykul’s fate. It was time for them to get moving again.
Unsure of how to wake Sam, Rhavin decided to start readying the horse first. Tightening the saddle on the quarter horse, Rhavin thought it odd he didn’t know its name. We’ve been traveling together for a while boy, what should I call you? The horse was unsaddled, Rhavin was only getting more and more impressed with Sam; this creature was almost human. Being unsaddled and left to wander, it was a surprise to Rhavin that the horse didn’t just up and leave.
“I’ll call you Loyal. Fitting name, don't you suppose?” Rhavin said to the mount. The saddle was laying near Loyal underneath the canopy of fir. Dusting the peppered dew off the leather, Rhavin woke the horse and began to saddle it. Tightening the last few straps, he heard a whisper.
“Help me Rhav. It’s gonna eat me!” Mykul’s voice called out. Turning to look, Mykul’s eyes were wide with shock. Sam had Mykul in a tight spoon, arms holding the bard close. Mykul attempted to move Sam’s large arm, but even with several large heaves the appendage wouldn’t move.
“It’s not going to eat you, Mykul. It’s keeping you alive.” Rhavin replied, turning back to the horse. “You should thank it. Without Sam we would be dinner for that troll.”
“Who knows how long it’s been since it’s eaten Rhav!” Mykul’s whispers began to get louder. “I can’t lose any more body parts!” Rhavin was glad to hear that some of Mykul’s personality was showing through again. This wasn’t the time to give up, and Rhavin needed Mykul as much as Mykul needed him right now. Mykul’s expression turned to fear when Sam began to pet his head.
“Tasty man.” Was all Sam said. Rhavin felt like he could hear a smirk in Sam’s comment. Mykul was gently slid away and Sam rose into a large stretch, muscles visibly rippling under the bovine hide.
Mykul calmed down as Sam began to walk around and prepare for the day's journey. The last of the bread from Loyal’s saddlebags was split between Rhavin and Mykul. Sam did not seem to worry about food. When Rhavin was ready, Mykul was placed into the saddle and the three companions set off again. Sam kept them in the same straight line. Mykul began to sing again, breaking the monotony of the pine needles crunching beneath their feet.
When dawn began to break Rhavin sighed a breath of relief. The cold of the forest was making their walk miserable, but it looked like the clouds had moved on and the sun was ready to warm them. The party had made it to a small river.
“Drink now. Only stop.” Sam said. Rhavin wasn’t going to argue, while he was still damp from the rain, his throat was dry. Rhavin filled up Mykul’s waterskin for him so he didn’t have to be dismounted.
“Sam, I must thank you. Coming to our aid, and even bringing me to a healer. If you were a woman I’d give you a sloppy kiss right now.” Mykul said with a smile. Sam only responded with a snort.
“After the spooning I’d say you looked like you were yearning for it!” Rhavin chided. Mykul blushed red and gave Rhavin a dismissive wave before beginning to whistle a tune.
The sun was finally starting to warm the surroundings up and Rhavin thought it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. After their small break, Rhavin followed Sam and Mykul back towards their destination.
Rhavin practiced his magic as they walked. He attempted to practice his aim with bolts of lightning. He would pick a particular tree as they walked and try to hit it several times from different angles. The bolt struck true several times and Rhavin’s confidence built.
Wanting to improve his skills he decided he would pick a particular leaf. Lightning scars lit up blue, he took aim of the target, extended his arm and unleashed the bolt of light. The electric current flew through the air, but was off course; he had aimed too high. The lightning struck a squirrel perched on the branch above the leaf, searing it black. Smoke tendrils drifted off the squirrel as it fell from the branch.
“If you hadn’t charred the thing, I might have suggested we eat it.” Mykul said. Rhavin decided he would take a break from practice.
The moon was high in the sky when Sam spoke up again. Weariness attempted to pull Rhavin back into sleep. Sam looked around and sniffed at the air. The party started zigzagging through the forest. Rhavin felt as if they were going in circles; every tree looked the same. Sam came to two trees that twirled together forming an arch, and stepped through pulling Mykul and Loyal in tow. As if they were transported, they all disappeared.
Rhavin quickly followed the party through. On the other side of the archway was what looked like another world. In front of Rhavin, a nicely sized log cabin was in the middle of a grass pasture. Surrounding the clearing was a canopy of trees so densely packed Rhavin didn’t believe even a squirrel could make it through. The tree tops covered all above them except a small ring of sunlight that shone down on the cabin in a perfect circle. Rhavin thought the sight almost divine.
Rhavin felt his skin twitch and writhe, and the uneasy feeling in his stomach almost made it ache. Magic was all around them. What is this place? He thought. Rhavin wasn’t the only one in awe. Mykul was being led by Sam up to the cabin, his head on a swivel. Within the glade were flowers, planted in circular rows outward from the cabin: roses, tulips, dahlias, orchids. From above, Rhavin figured it had to look like a target, with the cabin a bullseye. Grass pathways acted as barriers for the colorful stripes of flowers.
Sam looked back towards Rhavin and motioned him to the cabin with a wave. As the party approached the door to the cabin, Rhavin thought he heard Sam mutter “home,” as the large hands lifted Mykul off the horse and into its arms. The minotaur pinched the door handle with it’s free hand and the door opened up into a quaint and cozy cabin. A fire was lit in the small hearth. Surprisingly,furniture large enough to fit the hulking beast was placed around their common room. This really must be home for Sam.
Sam set Mykul down in an oversized chair and ducked through an archway. Mykul, sinking into the oversized chair, gave Rhavin a wide smile.
“This place is different, Rhav. I can feel it. There’s something in the air.” His eyes held the fire of curiosity that Rhavin loved about him. Rhavin felt it too, more strongly than Mykul he was sure. This place radiated with magic.
“You’re right Myk. There is something about this place. It’s a good sign that whoever we meet will be able to-” Rhavin’s thought cut off as an old woman with long black hair entered the room. With the wrinkles on her cheeks Rhavin figured she must have been well into her eighties. Even with her age, she held a beauty that Rhavin couldn’t deny. The woman glided into the room with swift movements that did not reflect her age. There was an elegance to every movement she did, Rhavin had never met a woman like that before.
“My name is Linwara. My daughter tells me you need healing.”