All of the Tales of Aldura are stand-alone stories, but in the time-line of published Tales set on the Twin God’s land of Alarel, this follows Phaedra (3 yrs later) and precedes Kaserie’s Choice by several years.
The chill winds, heralding an incoming storm, carried the stench of burnt flesh. Thaenad quickened his pace as he crept through the dimness of the autumn night, a darker shadow against shadows. He darted from tree to boulder to bush. His brown tunic, trews, and hair blended with his surroundings.
Lower on the hillside, a small cabin snuggled amidst a dense growth of brush. It became visible to his searching eye when the moon peeked between the thick clouds. The same fleeting moonlight revealed holes in its roof where the thatch had collapsed. It appeared abandoned, but the mind-call from his cousin, Gwenneth, originated from within.
The smoke, billowing further down the hill, told of the tragic end for many other Kalieri. Twinges of guilt assaulted him for rejoicing in Gwenneth’s survival. Again he wondered how the Halurdow sustained their hate. Why they thought burning living Kalieri would diminish the Twin Gods’ power?
Frequent enemy patrols had slowed his progress for the past two candlemarks. The journey would be for naught if he led the Dark God’s followers to those he sought to help. A horseshoe struck stone nearby, followed by the sound of muffled voices. Thaenad shifted further beneath the dense thicket of koblisk bushes, ignoring the pricks of sharp thorns. He quieted his breathing when the sounds of mounted men moved nearer.
The patrol passed between his patch of brush and the hut without showing an inclination to investigate either. He allowed himself a shallow sigh of relief, although their behavior puzzled him. The enemy faded into the night, and he left the thicket’s shelter.
Another dark cloud obscured the moon. Thaenad dashed to the rickety building. His soundless passage across the ground and over the planks of the porch brought him to the cabin door, which jerked open. An arm reached out, snatched the collar of his tunic, and pulled him inside. He sprawled belly-down on the floor and a body plopped on his back, pinning him.
“Gwen, its Thaenad,” he whispered.
The rustle of skirts approached, and a blue, fist-sized ball of light appeared above him, casting eerie shadows in the darkness.
“Thank the Twin Gods you’ve come!” Gwenneth gripped the shoulder of the man who sat on him. “‘Tis safe, Pieter. Release him.” The glow winked out. She tousled Thaenad’s hair. “Still wearing it long like a Njae are ya?”
The weight slid off, and Thaenad scrambled to his knees—careful to keep his hands open and away from his weapons. “Aye, and you always get in trouble and expect me to save you–same as when we were kids.”
Thaenad stood, bumping his head against a sagging roof-beam.
Gwenneth chuckled. “Always said you were too tall for your own good.” Her smile faded. “Glad you came, Cousin. I wondered if anyone would receive my call and come to our aid.” Gwenneth’s sigh echoed in the quiet.
Sniffles and rustles of feet indicated more people occupied the cabin than just Gwenneth and Pieter of the heavy rump. “How many?”
“Nine. Three adults. The rest children.” Gwenneth answered from his left.
“What ages are the younglings?”
“Four near six, two just able to walk,” Gwen replied.