: The Piper, part 16 by w.j.debi
Story of the Month contest entry
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae.
End of Previous Chapter
Captain Burkehart lagged behind the others to look back over his shoulder into the trees. He didn't want to raise false hopes, but for the first time he saw a chance for locating the lost boys. If only he could find a reason to leave the company so he could follow the faerie wolf's trail before it was destroyed by the coming storm. He gritted his teeth. Duty called. He had given Duke Welf his word to see the musicians safely to Hanover. More importantly, he promised to deliver a message to the Duke of Hanover and return with the response.
Bringing up the rear, Burkehart studied his companions as they walked ahead of him. Out of habit, his hand went to the hilt of his sword. Which one of you has faerie blood?
Rain pelted the foliage and rocks as if it had a fierce desire to drench the world. Thunder cracked and rolled like giant wooden wheels groaning under an immense weight. A flash of lightning lit the sky, and for an instant the silhouette of a cloaked figure loomed across the mouth of the cave. Thunder boomed another chorus as the figure stepped out of the storm, water pouring off of his cloak and forming tiny rivulets which pooled in the dirt around his feet. He pushed back the hood of his cloak and got his bearings. A few feet away, Piper snuggled in his bedroll, his hand entangled in the fur of a gray wolf.
Redd-Leif scowled. In a soft voice he asked, "What happened to the fire, Sheba?"
The wolf raised her head a few inches to look at him. "Shush. You'll wake Piper. He needs his sleep."
"If you must know, I put it out."
"So I see. Why, may I ask? I told Piper to keep it burning to protect him from animals."
"Yes, my friend, but it also attracts the wrong kind of animals. A search party was scouting the woods; the fire would have led them straight to this cave." She yawned. "Besides, I've watched over your boy as you asked. He's safe."
"I'll give you that much, I suppose." His scowl deepened.
Sheba raised her head higher, "My, my, someone is out of sorts. Rain dampened your mood as well as your skin, Summerstorm?"
Redd-Leif's shoulders slumped and he let out a weary sigh. "Sorry, Sheba. I am grateful for your help. Knowing you were watching over him was a comfort to me." He closed his eyes a moment and then looked back at her. "I guess I was hoping for a warm fire and some rest when I got here. Maybe even some hot food or at least a way to cook this." He held up a rabbit.
"Yum." Sheba licked her lips. "Yes, they are better cooked, especially the way you prepare them."
He shook his head. "You're the only wolf I know who prefers her food cooked."
"I eat plenty of them raw. Besides, I am ..."
"... not a wolf. Yes, I know."
She studied him for a moment, then lazily said, "You are dripping all over the place, you know."
He cracked a smile, huffed, laid the rabbit next to the remains of the fire, and moved over to the other side of the cave to remove his cloak. Though the thick leather was well oiled for protection from the elements, the outer surface of the cloak was starting to soak through. The same with his boots. Another hour in the storm would have saturated everything.
After removing his packs and spreading his cloak across part of the wood pile so it could dry, Redd-Leif set three pots just outside the cave to catch rain water, arranged the contents of his packs to his satisfaction, and pulled out supplies in preparation for cooking a meal. Then he grabbed some tinder and approached the remains of the fire, bending down to examine it for embers. Nothing. He'd have to start from scratch. At least they had plenty of dry wood. He looked over at Sheba. "Any danger of them finding us if I start a fire now?"
"None. They gave up and moved on, most likely to the nearest village and dry lodgings." Sheba looked toward the entrance. "That's quite a downpour. I'm sure it made for a difficult journey."
"That it did." Redd-Leif glanced into the gloom. "You'd never guess it was mid-morning by looking at the sky."
Once the fire was blazing, Redd-Leif retrieved two pots, now half full of water, from outside the cave. He placed them on the coals forming at the edge of the fire, putting cereal for porridge in one and cutting carrots into the other. A low growl made him look up from his task. He noted Piper's hand clutching Sheba's fur. A smile tugged at the corners of Redd-Leif's mouth. "I see you two were able to get reacquainted."
Sheba sighed. "He doesn't remember me. In fact, he thinks I'm quite frightening. I simply snuggled next to him after he fell asleep to keep him warm." She curled her lips back to show her teeth. "I just wish he wouldn't pull so hard on my fur."
"You thought it was cute when he was three."
"He isn't three any more."
Redd-Leif chuckled. "Well, he looks to be at ease with you at the moment so the memories must be in there somewhere. Give him time."
A brilliant white flash lit the sky, followed by a deafening thunder clap an instant later. Redd-Leif instinctively jerked toward the mouth of the cave, gazing into the dimness outside, his nostrils flaring, all his senses tensed to full alert.
"Summerstorm? What is it?"
He shook his head. "Probably nothing. Just an eerie feeling. The tingling in the air, the closeness of the lightning and thunder. It creates an unsettling aura." He continued to gaze into the distance. "When it rains this hard, I wonder what could be moving out there undetected. Logic says everything must be hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass, and yet ..."
"You didn't get any rest before heading back, did you?"
"There wasn't time. I tried to outrace the storm. Besides, I wanted to keep my promise to Piper to return as quickly as I could."
"Maybe you should rest now."
"As soon as I get these pots simmering. We'll be here a few days while this storm passes and things dry out."
Another lightning bolt lit the sky, and several seconds later thunder followed. So the rain would continue its assault, veiling the outside world from his senses. Redd-Leif turned back to the task of preparing a meal. Noting Sheba's more vigilant posture, he let a sigh of relief escape his lips. Within the cave, the fire crackled, and Piper stirred in his sleep.
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