“Just leave?” Para tightened her hand upon the satchel. How could she vanish without Phillip thinking the worst? Mostly the fact she hadn’t heard or seen him for so many days made her worry he might have thought she was gone or in trouble. She checked in with him almost every day. “But my friend—”
“Your friend travels his own path and you yours.” Shaeren shot her another look. “If he is your friend, he will know what you would say.”
Para wasn’t so certain, but as she regarded the lady ranger beside her, she could tell there would be no persuading a change of heart. “How does one become a ‘ranger lord’?” It sounded better than her goal of “guard captain”, definitely.
Para’s eyebrow twitched upward. “Excel at what?”
“Oh.” Maybe what she knew about archery and sword play wasn’t as awe-inspiring as she thought? “Have you been a ranger lord for a long time?”
“Long enough to become known.”
Confusion dipped her brows. “Known? To whom?”
“Those that matter.”
Para began to suspect that conversations with Ranger Lord Shaeren might prove even more difficult than conversations with Elena.
Shaeren met Para’s sidelong scrutiny, and that hard gaze sent any other questions straight from her head. “Questions will be asked and answered once we are on our way.”
Each word felt as if it were knocked into her head. Para nodded and smiled, scolding herself for successfully navigating her way to the hunter’s bad side. Did she want to be eaten the first night? No. So, she settled herself into the same brisk, long strides as the ranger lord hunter while trying to imitate just how she stepped in hopes she would learn how to walk so silently. She didn’t even make a crunch when stepping on loose pebbles.
How did one do that?
The closer they got to the city’s outer gates, the more often Para cast a quick glance over her shoulder for the other hunter–and for any sign of Phillip or one of his boys. Instead of Phillip, short and lanky Freddy with the white-blond hair and the eyes that saw without seeming like he saw anything faded in and out of her view. He was one of the best at slipping in and out of people’s blind side’s without effort. And even though he didn’t ever quite look in her direction, she still made the sign, palm down at her side, to let him know she was fine but leaving.
But Phillip was nowhere to be seen. It made her stomach feel like she got clobbered with a fencepost. In the past, Phillip always seemed to know when to show up at the right–or wrong–time to help her out of–or into–a bad situation. No, this wasn’t a “bad” situation, but she needed–or wanted–him to show up. Of course, if he did, he might get irritated that she was leaving and not giving him the details as to why and where and for how long—
Para pulled at her braid a couple of times to try and get her brain to quit going in circles. It didn’t help matters at all. What had Ranger Lord Shaeren said? If he were her friend, he would know what she would say? It was certainly better than the other possibility.
Near the gates, Shaeren slipped through the main crowd and came to a sudden halt. Para felt hard-pressed to keep from colliding with her.
She turned on her heel, her features taut and her eyes relentless. “From the mansion to where we now stand, what did you see?”
Familiarity invited a smile and a sense of ease–finally. Phillip and she played this game each day in the market square. Phillip called it “urban survival” for some reason. All she knew was that she wasn’t too bad at this game.
“There was a man in a crimson jacket and black pantaloons who is trying to make people think he still has coin to his name. His clothes aren’t as bright as they should have been, and the velvet is worn at the elbow. One of the guards in the market square has a new sword and scabbard, so he probably had a good night gambling this past week. Might have been last night, since he was clean shaven from the bath house.
“A new weapon smith opened up shop in the market square since last I saw, and the butcher shop is under new management–he changed the store sign. The jeweler was robbed recently because he hired a couple of mercenaries to stand guard, but they might have been the ones who robbed him in the first place because they’re in better weapons and armor than what they should be for mercenaries, and one of them wore a brooch on his cloak that I saw in the man’s store last month. I’m shocked he didn’t notice, the jeweler I mean.”
Shaeren held up her hand. “Good.”
Para squeaked in surprise, clutching at the front of her leather vest as Wendall Longsight appeared from the shadows leading three, pale-brown horses. “How di—I mean, where did you come from?” And how did he get horses to walk like the shadows themselves?
Wendall offered Shaeren the reins of two of the three horses. The hunter Shaeren accepted, both ignoring Para’s question and almost pointedly disregarding her presence. “Observant. Instinctual.”
“You can build on that. Are the skills better than you first thought?”
“For a noble’s ward, yes, and evidently trained by a central-market thief.”
Both Shaeren and Wendall focused their attention to her for an almost painful moment. “Shadowleaf,” the said in unison.
Para could feel the word strike like a pellet from Alric’s favorite sling-shot. “Are you talking about me?”
Shaeren turned for the city gates. “Come along. We have much to do.”
Para didn’t hesitate to follow. Eagerness beat in her chest. “Mr. Longsight?”
“Ranger Lord Longsight,” Shaeren corrected.
“Ranger Lord Longsight?”
“Yes, Recruit Sedi?”
“Lord Henry said something about a fist. What is a fist?”
Ranger Lord Longsight’s eyebrow twitched, though Para couldn’t understand the reason for it. “You might consider a Fist a tribe or clan. Each region is home to a single Fist. Before you ask, I am Ranger Lord of the Fist residing near Albervalley. Meaning, I am the Fist Lord.”
“So, you’re like Lord Henry, but of your Fist?”
Shaeren and Wendall brought her to a halt as the trio guided their horses from the city gates, completely ignoring the guards on each side.
He gripped Shaeren’s forearm and mounted his horse. “Good hunting.” Then he simply rode away.
Para blinked after him, trying not to admit she felt a little unsure at being alone with Ranger Lord Swiftfeet. She tried not to gulp when she noticed the lady hunter focused only on her and not on Ranger Lord Longsight’s exodus. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Ranger Lord Swiftfeet.”
“Ranger Lord Swiftfeet,” Para repeated.
She offered forward the reins. “We will walk and you will tell me what you see. Tonight, you will help make camp, by my instruction, and you will memorize the rules of your training.”
The only rule she had to remember when Phillip trained her was to not say anything stupid. “Yes, Ranger Lord Swiftfeet.”
Shaeren pulled a worn, hard leather book from one of her saddlebags. Her hold upon it paused before she shifted her focus and presented the book toward Para. “This was mine when I knew little or nothing. You know less, so you will study this each evening and morning. Beginning tomorrow, you will write your own book.”
Para accepted the token of knowledge, wide-eyed, fingers tracing the scars of use and runes of wisdom. “Yes, Ranger Lord Swiftfeet.”
Ranger Lord Swiftfeet covered the book with her hand, the long fingers enveloping Para’s with little effort. “Do not allow attachment. One day this will return to me, its rightful owner and, as I said, you will write your own.”
Crimson stained Para’s cheeks as she stammered and slipped the book carefully into her satchel. She would write her own book? The concept seemed more foreign than even the idea of becoming a hunter. “Where are we going?”
Shaeren gestured ahead, the slight motion encompassing the entire road leading from the city gates. When Para waited for more detail, she was met with silence. It hadn’t seemed a stupid question at the time. Para tugged her braid to keep from repeating the question with different words.
To be continued. For BACK EPISODES, navigate to the “book page” here: The Soul Cycle: Para.
This series is now being serialized on JukePop Serials, a free site. You can follow updates from any browser, or use their free app and receive updates in real-time. Also, each time you continue to the next episode, this story receives a “+vote” and you support me as a JukePop Serial author!
Author’s Note: The Soul Cycle started way back in November 2008 (for my first National Novel Writing Month venture) when I took one of my husband’s adventure module outlines–complete with maps and descriptions–and wrote life into Para and Mun, a pair of adventurers who had been traveling together for more than three years. The title: To Save A Soul.
The following year I wrote the continuation of that adventure, Silver and Iron, although it remains unfinished, and continued to brainstorm further adventures for my beloved Para and Mun. For the 2012 NaNoWriMo adventure, I wrote a prequel explaining Para Sedi and all her idiosyncrasies. I even began outlining Mun’s introductory novel, which would also include how he and Para first met.
The subject of this weekly serial will be Para & Mun’s story from their utter beginning.