Now, fleeing across the snow-covered peaks, Orthan’s guide-stone has shown him that they are being pursued. Old and sick, Orthan is determined to get Athira to safety. And his determination will create a legend…
Formats: ebook $2.99
Genre/s: urban fantasy
Length: short story
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Orthan was asleep when the guide-stone flared hot against his chest.
He woke instantly, but he did not move. Years of hunting had taught him to remain still, to assess his surroundings, before he betrayed his own presence. He’d lost more than one deer by raising his bow early.
But that was years ago, before he’d come to the Wide Valley. He was a herder now, entrusted with the village’s sheep and goats. He and young Hoth had brought them up here to the high pasture, where the grass was lush and thick, nourished by the snow which had melted in the warmth of spring. Hoth was only nine, but he was already a fine shepherd, and the animals trusted him almost as much as they did Orthan.
And now instincts that had kept Orthan alive when he was a young man himself had stirred once more. He lay still, eyes closed, ears searching beneath the ever-present sigh of the wind for other sounds. The rustle of grass. The bleat of a sheep moving restlessly in the night. The slight shush of hide against hide, then the muted thud of wood hitting flesh –
This time Orthan didn’t need the guide-stone’s heat to warn him. He seized his bow from his left side and an arrow set ready to his right and sat up in one smooth motion, aiming for the noise. A shadow moved against the white of the snow-laden mountains which held the high valley in their embrace; he fired and hit true. The shadow grunted and fell. Orthan snatched up another arrow and leapt to his feet, his stiff knees sending him staggering a little to the right.
That stagger saved his life.
An axe blade whistled past his shoulder, snapping his bow in half and biting deep into his palm. Orthan cried out, but again instincts took over. He pivoted, using his momentum to ram his second arrow up beneath the man’s ribs.
The killer staggered, then caught himself. He coughed, and Orthan stepped swiftly back and to the side as the man ripped the arrow free. But Orthan didn’t wait for him to try and kill him again – he snatched his own axe from the ground and swung the blunt end at the man’s head.
He dropped like a stone and was still.
Orthan didn’t listen for his last breath; he knew the man was dead. Instead he hurried around the firepit to where Hoth slept.
But there was nothing he could do for the boy. He had been lying on his side, his back to the warmth of the firepit, and even in the reflected light from the snow Orthan could see the shine of skull. He swallowed, bowed his head in respect, then kicked at the man who had killed him.
The man’s body flipped over, and Orthan pulled in a sharp breath as the moonlight revealed his face.
Lonar. One of Thaskar’s hunters.
Orthan didn’t even bother to strike camp. He’d slept in his clothes – it was warmer that way – so he simply flung his grass blanket around his shoulders, snatched up his quiver of arrows, shoved his copper axe into his belt, and turned his face toward home.