Second Battle of Jent
A light snow continued to fall, the large flakes appearing silently from the grey windless sky. With a stand of dark evergreens at her back, Findian surveyed the snow-covered mountain lake nestled between the two dark arms of the mountain that she and Avanian were descending, thankful that the faint outline of a Warden’s cabin was just visible at the far end of the lake; shelter and a warm fire tonight were much needed comforts after today’s arduous climb. She had forgotten most of the long Triumon names for the peaks, passes, valleys and lakes that Avanian had meticulously itemized for her, but she wouldn’t soon forget their crossing of the Behliden Pass.
In the week that they had been moving from one high mountain valley to another, she had become acclimated to the thin air, but today’s climb had been steep, made more difficult by the elevation, and there were times when she thought she hadn’t the strength to complete the dangerous transverse. She had no idea how Avanian had managed to follow her up that mountainside unaided, and after they’d started their decent from the Behliden Pass, Avanian had admitted that she’d never traveled this far into the mountains outside of Spirit before. The girl had steadfastly refused any assistance during the climb, and she’d even carried her own pack up the mountain with the same determination she’d used to make the hard final ascent. Findian found the girl’s heart and her uncomplaining demeanor a lesson for all who would choose to find solace in bitterness and despair, and she continually drew strength from Avanian’s optimism when her own thoughts would often drift to the Dasyu and the hardship her people at Torbod were undoubtedly now facing.
Thinking of Torbod again, she quickly dismissed any anxiety, gazing instead across the frozen lake. As she waited for Avanian to catch up, she realized that she was slowly coming to appreciate the expansive beauty of the wintry mountain scenery. The jagged mountains with their gleaming ice-covered peaks and the dark pine forests edging the slopes and valleys was nothing like the green rolling hills and meadows around Torbod. She especially found the frozen lakes and the blue tinted ice covering them to be soothing to the spirit, their passive beauty almost more refreshing than the gardens of Torbod. She was also starting to discern the many nuances of color among the whites and the blues of the snow and ice, and these new impressions were slowly becoming as stark in contrast as the many bright flowers from her own villa on the outskirts of Torbod. Even the cold had started to become beautiful in its own right, the crispness adding a texture to the landscape that she found difficult to describe.
The snow was starting to fall a little more heavily, the silent flakes breaking her from her reverie, and she turned back to the trees, wondering what was keeping Avanian. Unconcerned, she turned back into the wood, and when she reached the trees, her hunter’s instinct slowed her steps and quieted her footfalls. She crept quietly between the trees for a few hundred paces before she spotted Avanian crouched behind the trunk of a spindly but tall pine. Avanian turned over her shoulder, putting a finger to her lips before pointing to the bow slung across Findian’s back.
Findian stopped and loosened the bow, quietly pulling an arrow from the quiver. They had yet to get close enough to any of the harts that roamed these mountains, and so far, their hunt had consisted of Avanian teaching her how to expertly lay traps along the edges of the woods and frozen streams. The wardens who oversaw the entire area would likely retrieve those traps before they returned to Spirit, and as of yet, they had not caught any game on their hunt. With bow in hand, she crept to where Avanian waited.
The girl pointed deeper into the wood, the gentle slope carrying her eyes downward to a thinning group of trees, and at first Findian didn’t see anything. Then, from between two trees, she spotted the hart. It was a large buck, but like the others they had seen, Findian doubted her ability to get close enough for the range of the bow. The skill required to move silently enough had so far eluded her, highlighting the difficultly of a Triumon hunt. The baying of dogs and the sounding of horns always accompanied a Bruchmon hunt, and the galloping of horses and the yells of the huntsman were as far removed from this stealthy exercise as the rolling Bruchmon meadows were green and the jagged Triumon mountainsides were white.
She followed Avanian as the girl weaved silently between the trees, the frequent pauses and halting stops becoming less difficult for Findian as she was slowly beginning to anticipate the girl’s stalking steps. The hart was walking away from them, still unconcerned, and Avanian waited for nearly half an hour for the majestic beast to stop again. They began stalking it again when it stopped at the edge of a thicker group of trees, and Findian held her breath, expecting the animal to jump into the safety of those trees with each step. Her heart was pounding with anticipation when Avanian finally stopped, nodding at her to bring the bow to bear.
Findian almost couldn’t control her hands that had started to shake, and as she notched the arrow and began to draw the bow, the large buck lifted its head and turned its dark eyes in her direction. This was an ancient beast, strong and proud, and Findian almost felt as if the beast instinctively knew it had finally been bested in the hunt. He stood, waiting for the shaft that would take him down, seemingly knowing that even his great speed could not outrun a Triumon bolt. On the power of the hart’s unblinking eyes, Findian’s hand steadied and her mind cleared. With the bow fully drawn and the arrow aimed true, both hunter and hunted paused in that timeless eternity between life and death.
In her mind, Findian saw the bolt fly, and she heard the twang from the perfect Triumon bow held steadily in her hand. The shaft disappeared into the breast of the hart, its proud eyes still unblinking. On this day, mastery was hers.
Slowly, she dipped the bow, silently releasing the tension of the taut string; the imagined flight of the arrow striking the ancient hart was enough. She would not kill this proud beast of venery; having the skill to have gotten close enough to draw the string and loosen the killing bolt, had she desired, satisfied the protocol of the hunt. In recognition of her mercy, the hart paused a second longer, almost appearing to tip his massive rack of antlers in deference before it sprang into the trees.
“Charite en Ancien Hjortr,” Avanian whispered in the old tongue, tilting her head as she stared awestruck at Findian. “Only my grandfather would have stayed his hand here. How did you know?”
Findian brushed her hand along the white hart embroidered across the breast of her borrowed jacket, making the translation: Mercy for the Ancient Hart. Strange that word mercy being the embodiment of the House of Triumon, she thought; it ran contrary to every preconceived notion she had of Triumon.
“I didn’t know,” Findian said after a long pause. “The venerable hart knew; you knew.”
Findian then looked at the darkening late afternoon sky, feeling the effects of the long day’s climb as the thrill of the hunt seeped from her bones.
“My mother will no longer object to you wielding her bow,” Avanian said, still amazed. “My grandfather must learn what you have done here today. You will forever find favor with Triumon now.”
Findian smiled, accepting the girl’s words, even though she doubted that Triumon would ever fully forgive her spurning of Altan when she’d disregarding the wishes of Triumon Ealder by marrying Bran Northmon. As she had thought before, mercy was not an affection she expected from Triumon.
“There is Warden’s cabin on the far side of a lake just below these woods,” she said, changing the subject, choosing to return to more practical matters. “We should hurry there before the sun sets.”
Avanian held her eye for a brief moment, almost as if by her will alone she would see that Triumon accepted what Findian had done here. Then, glancing at the patches of sky between the tall evergreens, she let the matter pass, turning her thoughts to the warm cabin that awaited them.
“Behliden Retreat; provided the old maps I have studied are accurate,” Avanian said. “There should be a village below this valley and the mountains should open up into a wide forest. This area is renowned for its beasts of venery. You will soon be blooded with your first kill,” she finished, pointing to the arrow still in Findian’s hand.
For information on Heart of Hauden, Book One of the Harmony of the Othar Saga, please visit www.heartofhauden.com.