Finally, my favorite honorary niece has moved to somewhere I can actually get to! And she’s sooo cute! So this is the latest from Baral Favain… written in Switzerland and Austria.
(I love WordPress’ schedule feature.)
It happened that year that in the great city, Athemyx, the jewel of the plains, fever stalked the streets in his dress of scarlet and flame, and touched with his deadly wand those whom he would, from the household of the king down to the raggedest beggar in the gutter. And Sandrik Petir the farmer was in the city with his wife, leaving their son Olik Petir at home
For Sandrik Petir’s sister and her family were stricken with the fever, so he had gone to help as best he could. This was but little, however, for the coming of the fever might have been prompted by bad air, or bad water, or the annoyance of the goblins in their caves, or an offense to the lord of the snakes, or anything, or nothing. So said the king’s wise men, but, in short, nobody had the faintest idea.
It happened that when Sandrik Petir had been three days in the city, there was a mighty storm, the causes and omens of which were entirely unknown. It happened that by the end of a sennight, the sister, her husband, and their two sons, had died. Only the youngest, a girl of a year old, did the contagion pity and spare, and this child, Kettetri Saxlar, did Sandrik Petir and his wife carry home with them to raise as their own daughter.
And for the remainder of that winter, the frost came and went as he pleased, sweeping great signs in his own language across the frozen plains. He struck the soil, which was as rich as cream and as dark as a moonless night, so that it became like one great stone under the heavens.
Through all the winter, nothing interesting happened, but Olik Petir stamped about wearing his strong boots and his tunic of red wool, and fed the gentle milk-beasts and the fluttering brown egg-birds, and went long, lonesome walks, with the pack of baying herding-beasts. And through all the winter, Kettetri Saxlar grew taller and braver and altogether more like a plains-child born and bred than like a city child, and she forgot the narrow streets.
When the spring came, the frost packed away his writing tools and departed for the high north to harry the goblins in their dens. Freed from his ministrations, the soil softened, to crumble blackly in Kettetri Saxlar’s curious fingers, or yield beneath Olik Petir’s bare feet as he ran after her. And in the spring, Sandrik Petir went out to the field farthest from the house, to plow ready for wheat. His wife had walked to the home of the nearest neighbor, to help piece a quilt for a daughter’s dowry. (The daughter comes into the story later.) So Olik Petir was left to mind the house, the fire, and Kettetri Saxlar, in reverse order.
As the day drew to a close, dragging the sun down toward the hard horizon line that marks the western gate of the heavens, Olik Petir started up from the hearth, where he had been vainly searching for even a solitary ember, to see that Kettetri Saxlar no longer sat in the little nest of blankets he had made for her. Her rag doll with its blue hair lay discarded by the butter-churn, and the fresh spring breeze danced in at the open door, laden with scents of green grass and turned earth. Olik Petir was greatly alarmed, and could not think what to do. He would have remained so until his parents came home, had not a gust of the chill north wind whisked down the chimney and flung ash in his face.
But then he remembered what Baral Favain the Shendi prince had told him: an ever thou art in trouble, send for me by the North Wind. So Olik Petir ran out into the fallow field, tall and bright with wildflowers, where the wind stirred the heads of the grass as if looking for a message. Standing there amid the rolling waves raised by the north wind, Olik Petir turned uncertainly to face the east, for in all the pagan myths of that place, it was from the east that the gods came.
“O extremely great god T’Narxai,” he began, addressing himself to the golden sky, “please would you allow your north wind to tell Baral Favain that I need his help?” As he finished this request, however, keeping his words brief and humble so as not to babble like a heathen, as Baral Favain put it, a voice hailed him, and he turned.
The west was such a blaze of setting sun and bright-skimming clouds live-bright as firecoals that for a time Olik Petir was quite dazzled. But at last the shifting copper and scarlet arranged themselves and glided away below the violet horizon, leaving only a stray patch of sunset striding across the field. Fiery hair aglow as molten gold, crimson cloak vivid in the twilight, and the great green gem in his sword-hilt flaming like a brand, Baral Favain called again.
Olik Petir made one mad dash, with wings to his heels, and ran to his friend.
“You – you -” he gasped. “Did the North Wind -”
“Ay. But she had not far to carry thy message: I was already afoot. Thou shouldst have more concern for thy livestock, Olik Petir,” Baral Favain said with a smile. And drawing back a fold of his cloak, he revealed Kettetri Saxlar, sound asleep in his arms, and quite safe.
“The fire went out about noon, and I guess she got away,” Olik Petir explained.
“And hast mended the fire? Nay. Well, mayhap I can help thee there. In return for having enjoyed the company of thy charming sister all afternoon,” Baral Favain added drily. “Has she a name, by the way?”
And when Olik Petir had told him it was Kettetri Saxlar, and received her, warm and sleepy and uncomplaining, he went with Baral Favain into the farmhouse kitchen, to put Kettetri Saxlar in her box-bed of blue riyo-wood, and to mend the fire.
Any of the people in that land, except for Olik Petir, and, perhaps, Kettetri Saxlar, would have expected Baral Favain to flicker his fingers, or say a spell, and make the fire burn by magic. But the children, who knew him, were not in the least astonished when the Shendi prince produced a perfectly ordinary tinder-box, struck a spark onto the dry tinder from a flint and steel, and built up the fire just as Sandrik Petir would have done, if a little quicker. When the flames licked merrily in the hearth again, he closed up the tinderbox and put it away.
“Do not lose thy sister again,” he told Olik Petir. “Perhaps next time another than I would find her.”
“All right,” said Olik Petir.
Baral Favain left to return to his house in the hills, saying that likely Sandrik Petir would not be best pleased to find a visitor in his kitchen when he returned from his work.
At the yard gate, the prince paused, and said to Olik Petir, “Tell thy parents all that has happened. Say also that from now, I will watch for Kettetri Saxlar, lest she stray again.”
And, predictably, she did stray again, for otherwise this would not be a very interesting story. On this second occasion, she wandered away from the field where Olik Petir’s mother was trying to watch the wool-beasts and the milk-beasts and Kettetri Saxlar. Because in this undertaking she had necessarily to divide her attention, and because, as Sandrik Petir put it, Kettetri Saxlar moves faster than the finest riding-beast in the king’s stables, the aforementioned infant managed to slip away.
Precisely when this happened nobody ever knew, but certain it is that when Sandrik Petir came to the field at noon, Kettetri Saxlar was nowhere to be found. Three hours later, the farmer and his wife had searched fully half a league in all directions, yet there was still no sign of the child.
Olik Petir was called away from weeding his mother’s vegetable patch, to run to the next farm and summon expert help in the search: the neighbor’s four grown children were the best trackers in the plains. On his way, as he was crossing the line of trees that marked the boundary, the wind suddenly shifted to blow from the north.
Stopping in his tracks, Olik Petir turned so that the cold wind blew on his left cheek, and said very rapidly, “O T’Narxai: North Wind, Baral Favain, Kettetri Saxlar.” Then he ran on, soon to return riding with the neighbor’s daughter and three sons, swung onto the back of the daughter’s saddle, listening to the hooves of all four riding-beasts pounding over the ground. As the beasts thundered into the yard, Sandrik Petir came from the house.
The girl behind whom Olik Petir rode laughed with her white teeth and slanting eyes, and when Sandrik Petir had told her and her brothers how to recognize Kettetri Saxlar, she nodded. If these four couldn’t find the missing infant, so their reputation ran, nobody could. Olik Petir thought fleetingly of his blurted prayer, and felt foolish. What could a kindly prince – even with apparently magical powers – do that they could no? The girl put spurs to her beast, and all four galloped away over the open plain, Olik Petir clinging for dear life about the girl’s waist.
By sundown the riding-beasts no longer galloped, but walked wearily back to the farm. Letting Olik Petir down from her saddle, the slant-eyed girl shook her head and did not meet his mother’s anxious gaze. The trackers reined in their mounts and rode away into the fast-falling darkness.
“Now,” said a familiar voice in the obscurity, “if I may, Sandrik Petir?”
Olik Petir, on tumbling from the saddle, had fallen to his knees in sheer weariness. As he struggled up, he saw the great hunting-bird, with its glossy plumage and curved beak, that perched on Baral Favain’s leather-clad forearm. Taking two tiny glass vials from his pocket, the prince poured a few drops of liquid from one into the other, which instantly began to shine with a magical light, cold and white as the stars, and set the vial in a holder laced to the hunting-bird’s taloned foot.
He whispered to the bird, which nodded quite as if it understood, and then raised his hand and let the magnificent creature soar away into the darkness. Within seconds, only the glimmer of the vial betrayed the presence of anything in the sky. And Baral Favain took the lantern Sandrik Petir gave him, and set off to follow the light. As Olik Petir stumbled after his friend, catching his feet in every hole and hollow of the ground, he caught only snatches of what the prince was saying to him.
“Bird can see in the dark… told it of thy sister’s appearance… Look thou, follow the light of the lantern. The lesser light shall be my concern.” So Olik Petir followed, and tripped and fell and scrambled up again more times than he could count, until at last the hunting-bird circled lazily down into the gold pool cast by the lantern, and took its place on Baral Favain’s shoulder.
And there, in a mossy hollow, lay Kettetri Saxlar, drowsing with her thumb in her mouth. Baral Favain bent to raise her up, and the bluish-white light of the bird took off, and led them all three back to the farm again. Here the Shendi prince delivered Kettetri Saxlar into Sandrik Petir’s hands, before going away into the night to find his own house in the wooded hills. But Olik Petir ran after him, and held his arm so that he was forced to halt.
“Thanks for finding her,” Olik Petir said. “I don’t know how we can ever pay you back.”
“Let me return and see her sometimes,” quoth Baral Favain sadly. “Kettetri Saxlar puts me in mind of my own daughter.” And he went on alone, with the hunting-bird wheeling in the stars above him.