(Wondrous Birds and Wonderful Folk)
During their days at Lynndahl, Garr and the companions learned much and shared much. Their belongings were returned to them, naturally. Allunn said, “ I’ve been cast into exile for trumped up charges against, shall we say, the erstwhile king? I’m starting a new life with the crime of kidnapping our future king, I’ll not compound it with the crime of stealing from his Highness.” Here he toasted Garr to laughter and shouts of “Here, here!”
It was learned that Oserick Arntsen, a man employed by the crown as a huntsman to supply Blothe with fresh game to accommodate his lavish tastes, left the employ of the king to pursue a more stable life as a sheep farmer. The reasons for his decision were simply that he was in love with a shepherd’s daughter and the man was aging and more than willing to marry his daughter off to a responsible man, especially one who’d held a very respectable position in the king’s employ.
Blothe bade him to reconsider as he was by far the most productive of the king’s force of twelve huntsmen, but Oserick politely declined. Oserick was a freeman and no indentured servant and while few refused the king, he was well within his right to do so. He respectfully left the king’s service and began to court Gretchen while helping to run the old shepherd’s farmstead.
Blothe was livid. He was unaccustomed to being refused. It ate at him something awful. Because Oserick was fully within his right to follow whatever life he chose, the king could not legally punish the man, but he vowed that he would find a way to ruin him and he sent his spies to gather all the information that he needed to use against him.
When he found out that Oserick planned marriage to Ulf Ramdallen’s daughter, he paid off Ulf’s neighbor, a ne’er-do-well who also happened to be a shepherd who’d always been insanely envious of Ulf, to betray him. Ulf was a hard-working and steadfast man who’d always worked hard, long hours to see that his farmstead was productive and turned a profit.
Conversely, the neighbor, one Heglum Smitnersen was lazy, shiftless and spent more time in his cups than in the pasture and sired a gaggle of filthy children ages twelve to seventeen that he bullied into doing his work for him. This work often entailed midnight raids on Ulf’s flock. Ulf had many sheep in his flock and new every one, but when a few went missing he knew exactly where they’d gone but turned a blind eye because he felt sorry for the children. He actually went to the man once and offered to help out but a besotted Heglum took offense and chased him off the property in a fit of rage, so he decided never to take that tack again.
Heglum’s wife had not been seen for years and it was rumored, probably correctly, that she’d succumbed to injuries from beatings or the miseries, or both and died. She was a foreigner, so she obviously had no relatives close enough to query after her welfare or whereabouts.
Blothe had only to offer to keep Heglum in ale for the rest of his life (which as it turned out, was only three years), in return for a charge against Ulf that he had been stealing Heglum’s sheep for years and that he finally had proof. All he had to do was sneak into Ulf’s paddock and trim off Ulf’s mark from the ear of a ewe or ram and clip his own mark into the other ear. Of course Blothe would try the case and would find in Heglum’s favor.
On the day of the trial, naturally Gretchen and Oserick were present to support Ulf and when Blothe saw the beauty of Gretchen he was filled with lust. As penance for his “crimes” it was decided, by Blothe of course, that Ulf’s farm would be forfeit to the royal estates and that he must work it as an indentured servant for his remaining years. Also as part of the verdict Gretchen would be pressed into servitude as a royal concubine. Blothe tapped the butt of his royal scepter on the arm of his throne, said, “Done,” and their fates were sealed.
Oserick was irate and charged the throne but was overpowered and constrained. Blothe had him escorted from the bastion. He did not imprison him because he’d already ruined the man’s life and wanted him to know that his beloved was locked away as the plaything of the king to be taken and ravaged at his will. Gretchen, however, rather than be raped by the king, took her own life. When Oserick heard of this his world collapsed. He fled to the badlands because he knew that Blothe would have him hunted down and disposed of. So for almost ten years Oserick lived off the land and hunted extensively in the badlands and dreaming of revenge. Consequently he knew exactly where on the slopes of Gunderbad the ‘boneyard’, as he’d taken to calling the wyvern graveyard, was. When he learned that Garr and company where seeking this area he jumped at the opportunity to lead them. In this way he would be working revenge against the unjust king.
“It would be my honor to aid you and call you my king. This land is good land and populated by many good and honest people and they have long deserved a proper and honorable king. You would do me a profound service by allowing be to be a part of this new history.”
Garr smiled and said simply, “Twist my arm. Oserick, trust me when I say, ‘the honor will be all mine’.”
The days were spent re-provisioning the Gunderbad expedition. It was decided that Allunn would lead his band of men, which had earned the unofficial name of the Lynndahler 1800, to Fjellhiem and aid in any way they could. They would carry a letter of introduction from Briar to Algar with a full explanation of their progress and intentions for the rest of the expedition. Also a stern warning to be on the alert for a company of draugar, for since they seem to have temporarily given them the slip, their logical destination would be Fjellhiem.
The day before the party was set to leave for Gunderbad, Garr voiced a curiosity that he’s been noticing for a few days. “Allun, I’ve been noticing birds coming and going through small holes in a lot of the dwellings here. What is that all about, pets?”
Allunn grinned, “Well, yes and no. Tell you what, saddle your horse and meet me back here in half an hour. I’ve been having some thoughts about those birds myself, now that you mention it. Better to show you than try to explain it.”
Within the hour, they were riding through the cool midmorning air to the far end of the caldera, which was a full three miles distant. “You met old Gallen the other night. He lives at the far end of the valley and guards the other tunnel. By now he already knows we’re coming,” said Allunn.
Garr’s curiosity was really piqued now. He grinned and frowned simultaneously, “What is he, some kind of seer?”
Allunn laughed. “ Gallen? Hardly, you’ll see.” he said and laid his finger aside his nose. Before long they arrived at a two-story mud and stone structure with many of the bird holes similar to what Garr had seen in other homes at the other end of the valley. The structure was built right into the sheer wall of the caldera and most of the holes were on the second story. They dismounted and Allunn walked to the door and knocked. A clear voice called out, “Come…it’s open.”
They entered to a large open area where a little old lady was stirring a pot in the hearth at the far end of the room. There was a long table with eight chairs, counters and a hutch. A curtained alcove with a cozy-looking bed was off to one side. The woman turned, smiled and crossed the room wiping her hands on her apron. “Ah, Allunn, to what do we owe this pleasure?”
“I brought Garr to get a lesson from Gallen about the birds.”
Garr held out his hand and said, “Yes, I remember. We met a few nights ago at the gathering. If memory serves…Glenda, no, Glynda, right?”
Glynda smiled, “Sharp lad, Right you are.” She turned to Allunn, “Gallen’s upstairs. Go on up.”
Along the wall was a staircase leading to a trap door in the ceiling. They climbed the stairs and Allunn knocked before pushing the door open a crack. Garr could hear Gallen from within. ‘Come, come. Just tending our friends. I’ll be through presently.”
As they entered the room Garr could see shafts of light streaming from many round holes, illuminating the darkness, many dust motes sparkling and making their way to wherever. The room was vacant but for a chair and Gallen, but the walls were lined with slatted cages. The cooing of the many birds was riotous.
“Ah, Allunn. Got your message. Been expectin’ you. You’ve brought our wayward traveler, I see. Good, very good.” Allunn nodded and winked at Garr.
“Waylaid traveler is more like it,” Garr amended, grinning.
“Ho, quite,” said Gallen crossing the room. He held one of his birds and stroked it lovingly. The iridescent feathers throwing off rainbow hues each time the shafts of sunlight touched it.
“This is Breeze,” he said, holding the bird aloft with evident pride. “The product of generations of selective breeding and at least as intelligent as your average trull, I daresay.” Gallen put a fistful of grain in Garr’s hand. Garr took the meaning immediately and held it out for the bird.
“He’s beautiful,” said Garr, appreciatively. “What kind of bird is he?”
“Her,” Gallen corrected. “Pigeon. Carrier pigeon to be precise. You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but in my youth I was quite the warrior. As so many of Norgeve’s youth did years ago, I hired out my sword and went adventuring to a few of the countless feudal conflicts in Gernham and Ongerlund. Gernham is where I learned of these wondrous harbingers. I brought several pairs of them home with me. One of those pairs were the great, great, great grandparents of little Breeze here. ”
Garr was surprised at this revelation, not so much because of Gallen’s obvious age, but because of his naturally easy way and gregarious nature. But as Garr well knew even at his young age, time brings many changes. “But for the coloring, she looks much like the morning doves, that wake me each morning.”
“Ha, right you are,” said Gallen, obviously appreciative of Garr’s keen eye. “Very closely related, they are.” Just then another bird flew through one of the many holes setting off a tinkling bell affixed to its cage. “Ah, here’s Harpy. I’ve been waiting for her.” He lovingly handed Breeze over to Garr and turned to retrieve the newcomer.
As he pulled Harpy from her cage the bird fussed a bit but Gallen shushed the bird calm with loving strokes and retrieved a small strip of parchment from a tubular container affixed to its leg. Once he’d done this, he replaced the bird and read whatever was written on the strip. Walking to the trap door, he lifted it and called, “Margarite says ‘thanks for the poultice. It seems to be working.”
From below Glynda answered, “Ah, very good, Thank you.” Gallen dropped the hatch and turned saying. “The widow Huggler. She’s got rheumatizz in the feet and ankles somethin’ awful. We think it’s gout, if ya take my meaning.” Here he made a gesture as if lifting a flask to his lips.
The afternoon was spent giving Garr a crash course in the care, feeding and breeding of carrier pigeons. He was informed that when Gallen’s son Fallen was back from his rounds delivering whatever various remedies were too bulky or heavy for delivery via pigeon, they were going to pack ten pairs of the birds to travel south with Allunn’s party to Fjellhiem. Garr realized then how committed these folks were to the cause and that these birds would most definitely be a boon. They were so much faster and more efficient than any runner or even horse messenger would ever be. He realized that while his party was resting up these past few days, the inhabitants of Lynndal had been very busy indeed.
Before leaving Gallen insisted that they take some tea with him and Glynda which they did amid light banter and scones and jam.
As they were leaving, they were surprised to see Arnaald walking up the path leading one of the pack horses.
“Torfax finally throw you?” Garr quipped.
The mage smirked. “Oh you’re a jester now, eh? No, I just figure I’d stretch the old legs and take advantage of the weather. I’m stocking up on fresh herbs and I’ve run into Fallen and was informed of the pigeon situation. He seemed pretty busy so I figured I’d bring the birds back with me and save him a tip.”
“Gods!” Garr exclaimed. “I’d best get my head out of my arse. It seems I’ve been lazing about these past few days while everyone around me has been pretty industrious.”
Arnaald leaned on his staff and smiled. “I guess you can afford to leave your head where it is at least for one more night. I daresay when we leave here, it will be hard riding, cold lodging and colder meals aplenty until this conflict is resolved. How long that will be is anyone’s guess. Now you get along and be prepared to leave at first light. I am going to take some time to share herb lore with the good missus.”
Garr knew he would miss this idyllic valley and its charming inhabitants and mourned the fact that once he left, he may never see it or share their company again. Indeed the rest of his life, however long that may be, was sure to be fraught with danger, hard work and conflict and suddenly he didn’t feel so bad about relaxing and enjoying the joyous companionship of these affable folk. The beauty of this place was that, for all who dwelled here, the world and its concerns went on without them and the sacrifices these valiant men and those they left behind would be making, were nothing less than selflessly monumental.