The Price of Magic – Chapter 18 Excerpt

“Here you go, little one,” said Tokkenoht, setting a handful of forest slugs down on a rock beside the human.

“I can’t.  I know I should, but I just can’t.  If I eat them, I’ll vomit, and then I will lose all the water I drank back at the stream.  You eat them.”

The priestess scooped them back up and tossed them into her mouth.

It had been two days since the small human had helped her escape from the soft-skin warriors. Tokkenoht had managed to find enough food to keep her strength up.  Forest slugs were considered a delicacy among her people.  The human, however, had eaten nothing.  Tokkenoht was beginning to worry about her.

“I’ll eat today,” said Stahwasuwasu Zrant.  “Mark my words, I’ll bring down something I can cook today.”

“I don’t mean to criticize, little one,” said Tokkenoht.  “After all, you arranged my escape, and then managed to remove my chains with that hair wire…”

“Hair pin,” corrected the human, using the soft-skin word.  “My hut elders were correct.  You really cannot do without them.”

“Yes, you have shown great cunning for a having seen so few summers.”  She bobbed her head in annoyance.  “How many summers have you seen, anyway?  Six or seven?”

Tokkenoht hissed when the human let out her strange warbling laugh.  It was such a strange sound; it was unnerving.

“I have actually seen thirteen summers, though that’s not really what you’re asking.  The fourteenth anniversary of my birth was a short time ago.”

“Fourteen,” mused Tokkenoht. “I would not have guessed it, though I have been told that the soft-skins age much slower than we do. Wait.  You mean you were born in winter?”

“Oh yes, my people routinely defy all the laws of nature.”

“Perhaps humans are much more dangerous than we thought.”

“If you are only now figuring that out, then perhaps I have been giving your race too much credit,” said the human.

Tokkenoht grunted in recognition of the insult and perhaps of an unsettling truth as well.

“As I was saying, I don’t mean to criticize, but those spears are too small to throw, even with an atlatl.”

The human female had crafted three small spears with tiny spear points and had trimmed the back ends of them with pieces of a feather she had found on the ground.

“Oh, these are not spears. I have tried throwing spears with an atlatl, but I’ve never been very good at it, and I certainly don’t have time to become good now.  I need a weapon I already know how to use.”

“But you have your thunder weapon.”

“Yes, I do.  I also only have ten more um… uses for it.  I shouldn’t have wasted four scaring the males when one would have sufficed.”  The human peered around into the forest.  “I can use these to bring down something to eat and save the thunder weapon for defense. I don’t intend to end up in the belly of a feathered runner, like poor Warden.”

“This Wharden was a member of your hut?” asked Tokkenoht.

“No, he was just a friend.”

“I am sorry.  I recently lost someone.”

“A member of your hut?”

“Yes, and more.  She was the wife of my husband.”

“The wife of… fascinating! I had no idea that your people were um… that the males married more than one female.”

“Only the most powerful kings.”

“Then… you’re Hsrandtuss’s wife?”

Tokkenoht hissed the affirmative.

“Then it’s doubly important to get you back safely to your city.”

The human stood up and taking a knife from her belt, used it to cut a long segment of a branch from a willow tree.  She carefully trimmed it.

“The warrior Azkhantice is your friend?” said Tokkenoht, after a few minutes of silence.  “You hugged him.”

Stahwasuwasu Zrant stopped carving.  Her face flushed in a way that the lizzie had been unaware was possible.

“Um, yes, Ascan is a friend too.  We should get going.  I can work on this while we travel.”

They started off again through the forest, walking in the direction of the morning sun.  Tokkenoht took the lead and Stahwasuwasu Zrant followed, working her willow switch as she walked.

“What is your human name, Stahwasuwasu Zrant?” asked the priestess.

“It’s Iolana.”

“How strange.  It sounds like a bird call.”

“I suppose,” she allowed. “What is Hsrandtuss like?”

“He is a good king. He is very strong and very brave. He is also wise.”

“Wise enough to get thunder weapons.”

“Yes, we bought them from the human traders from the other human city state—the one called Natine.”

“The Mirsannans?” wondered Iolana.  “Not too much of a surprise, I suppose.  I understand they’re setting up trading bases in the far east.  You might even be better off with them on your side. They’re not looking to export as many settlers I imagine, since Mirsanna is so much larger than Brechalon in terms of land area.”

“You seem to know much about the politics of your people,” said Tokkenoht.

“Oh, no, not really.  Everyone knows those things.”

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