The breeze rattled the cottonwood leaves overhead as it chased through the tall big bluestem grass beyond the butt and died away. Rose drew her bowstring to her cheek,
hesitated and planted her eighth arrow in the target. A warbling vireo went back to its
meandering medley from the crown of the cottonwood. Rose nocked her next arrow and
found the target with her eyes.
“My word!” said Fuzz as he walked up behind her. “That’s a whole bouquet of arrows in the bull’s eye. That looks like forty yard.”
Rose nodded and lowered her bow. “Father always had us practice,” she said.
“I remember seeing that light longbow of yours back home, but we were in such a rush that I never once saw you use it,” he said with a nod at the target. “You’re just plain good, particularly with this breeze. Have you missed any at all?”
“I’ve not yet been to the target.”
Fuzz whistled. “Well what do you think of Olloo’s spare bow? I’m all done feeding the birds, by the way.”
Rose raised her bow and quickly put another arrow in the bull’s eye. “I like it,” she said, letting the breeze blow a strand of hair out of her face as she turned to look at him. “But it’s not at all like the one Soraya had. This thing’s longer and shoots almost like a proper longbow.”
“Well that makes sense, out here in the open in the Strah,” he said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “I knew Inney had got it for you, but I never asked you why. Are you wanting to be ready for Spitemorta or Demonica sometime after we get home?”
“I was thinking trolls.”
“Damned right!” she said with a fiery look. “Those were the sweetest three little kids I think I ever saw. That little towhead Aalin trotted up with her ringlets just a-bouncing and gave me a fistful of asters the very afternoon before the trolls came. I still see her face.” she thrust out her chin and picked up another arrow. “You know, that makes four men, three young ladies, one of them about to be wed, and six little scoots like Aalin since we got here. They’re going to get wiped out at this rate.”
“Probably not. They’ve been out here doing this for the last thousand years.”
Rose turned to face the target to find an old ewe and her pair of lambs in the way. “Yea?” she said. “Well what about our wee baban on the way, aye? One of those trolls gets too close to our little girl to be, and I’ll want to puncture the curse.”
“So that’s what this is about,” said Fuzz. “Have you forgotten that trolls don’t eat humans?”
“You think they’ll look at her ears after they grab her up? And can you imagine any trolls raiding Balley Cheerey who’d check each little girl for pointed ears before stealing her away? They’d just grab her up, right? And if they saw their mistake, do you reckon they’d dutifully fetch her back here? They’d either eat her for dessert or kick her out in the woods with the wolves.”
“Well, you’re right,” he said, squatting beside her and pulling a timothy head. “So what do you want to do?”
“Fight back!” she said, dropping to her knees beside him. “Or at least be able to. You know, I don’t really understand why the Elves haven’t wiped them out by now, Fuzz. Inney told me once about when they almost did. They tracked the monsters to their
stinking caves and killed nearly every one of the curses where they slept before the
handful which survived got away. And when they can do nearly everything just a little
better than we can, why didn’t they ever hunt down those survivors and end the menace?
When I think of little Aalin, it makes me want to cry.”
“Tramman was telling me about that, once,” he said as he watched the ewe graze bite by bite to the foot of the target. “He said that they did indeed hunt down the trolls that got away and they were right certain they’d got all of them, too. So when the next troll raid occurred years and years later, they were completely unprepared and lost eleven children all in one night. Can you imagine?”
“Oh Fuzz, what are we going to do? It’s a true paradise here without the troll raids. I’ve never in my life been around such wonderful, wonderful people. Inney’s the sweetest kid I’ve ever known. And I really did want to have the baby right here. But the trolls scare me. And I find myself missing Niarg more, day by day. I keep thinking we should be there for the birth. It’s where we really belong.”
Fuzz scooted closer, picked up her hand and closed his eyes as he kissed her wrist. “Then maybe we should go home, dear,” he said. “The Elves have told Karl-Veur and me that we might well hire a fishing boat from Gwael to take us across the sea.” He paused to look at her. “And there’s nothing to stop us from doing it right now if we were to buy our
passage with some of the jewelry that washed up on the beach in your trunk. Now believe
me, I’d never just up and tell you to do such a thing…”
“I’ll give every blooming jewel I thought was long lost if it takes it,” she said. “Well, not the emerald necklace from Mother nor your earrings that match. Well. You know, I’d almost give those to go home.”
“Then it sounds as though you might be serious. Well if you think it over and…”
“That would just waste time. I’m ready to go pack.”
“Then I’ll go talk to Tramman right now.”
“Fuzz,” she said, putting her hand on his arm before he got to his feet. “I will stay if you want.”
“You really would, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course I would.”
“That’s why I’m crazy about you, Rose,” said Fuzz. “But I miss Edward. I mean, what must he think after all this time?”
Suddenly two half grown strike falcons appeared out of the grass and came dashing up to them across the butts with a rabbit apiece, startling the sheep.
“Carrey and Sidoor!” she said, shooting to her feet to hug Carrey’s fluffy neck. “How’d they get out?”
“Sidoor kept putting images of fat rabbits in my head, so I thought about you out here and turned them out.”
“So what about our birds, Fuzz? We can’t leave them behind.”
“Of course not,” he said as he watched the birds drop their rabbits and rip them into pieces small enough to swallow. “They go with us, and that’s all there is to it. Now, I think we should find Karl-Veur and see if he wants to go with us or stay here.”
“Or go back to the Dark Continent. After all, you know he misses Yuna and young Yann-Ber. I think we should let him know that it’s all right with us if he changes his mind about trying to get into Demonica’s good graces.”
“Oh sure. But I’ve got a feeling he’s set on doing what he came with us to do, in spite of the price he has to pay.”
“Let’s go,” said Rose as she unstrung her bow and picked up her quiver.
“Then we talk to Tramman and Obbree about hiring a fishing boat,” he said, taking her by the hand.
“I’m for that,” she said, squeezing his arm.
Ch. 20, The Reaper Witch
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps