I worried I might lose sight of the fire altogether if I rose to the treetops, but I did rise a bit more above the ground, enough to avoid bracken and other undergrowth, as well as most roots, rocks and boulders, although I remained obliged to wend my way around rock piles and trees.
In 15 minutes I could see flames clearly through the remaining trunks and sod, and stopped to determine who it was that sat around the fire.
There were six of them seated cross-legged in a circle around the blaze; four were like medieval foresters or rangers, one was in the rough brown robes of a monk, and the last, more regally and colorfully clad than the others, as if some kind of nobility. All of their cloaks were hooded, leaving me no idea what their heads looked like. But each was between six and seven feet tall and powerfully built. I’d no idea who or what they were, but I knew no one with half a brain would want to be on the wrong side of them.
“Come here, young sir, we’ve been expecting you.”
The regally clad one looked over in my direction, as if he’d just become aware of my presence. He didn’t speak, but I distinctly heard his voice in my head. I hesitantly made my way into the clearing and stood before them. The regally clad one motioned to me to sit beside him. “Welcome, Reggie.”
“Thank you,” I said, sitting down. “You’ve the advantage of me; you know my name, but I don’t yours.
“I am Aeduuin,” he replied.
“Sir Aeduuin,” one of the rangers called out, interrupting. His voice was in my head, too, although I also heard a barking noise.
“Titles discomfit true excellence, exalt mediocrity, and are themselves despoilt by the fortunate undeserving. I have little use for them,” he replied. Then his tone grew warmer. “But I thank you all the same, Roldan, for your kind recognition.
“In a similar spirit, Reggie, I shall refer to the wise, learned monk on the other side of you simply as Brother Sinjin, save to say he is my temporal as well as my spiritual adviser, although I could set forth a litany of far greater titles of distinction.
“Next to me on my other side is Captain Witter, leader of this group of rangers, next to him on the other side is Hælan, his lieutenant and healer, the other two rangers are Roldan, whose spontaneous accolade you heard a moment ago, and Bevel.”
At this, the company bowed their heads and removed their hoods. The proverbial feather could have knocked me over.
© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be delayed due to illness and surgery (mine) and to technical problems beyond my control, but should be available in early 2018. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018