Today is Ashley's birthday, and as we released chapter one for my birthday, today we are releasing chapter two. Please wish Ashley a great day, and leave a comment below as well. Don't forget that chapter 1 is also found here, just look at the may postings if you want to read that first.
Gus was not much for celebrating in his old age. There was no need for him to go to the ratification ceremony, so he would leave it to the young to socialize and celebrate. He felt that a better use of his day would be searching for wand materials.
He preferred to spend his time pondering wand theory as he walked in the meadow, his favorite wand at his left side in a leather pouch that Lady Carrion had made for him. He wasn't carrying anything except for a sack for the sticks he collected. Gus was serious about his work; best to carry light and lengthen the time of productivity.
He had a large family to provide for, after all. His species was known for having many offspring, and he was no exception. Gus had lived a very long life, especially for a prairie dog. He had survived three wives, the succession of two Turgents, and a brief yet terrifying excursion in an elven prison cell. Years of gathering raw wand materials had left him slightly kyphotic, and he moved a little slower than he used to, but even hunchbacked he stood taller than any other in his colony. His coat had lightened over the years, and was mostly gray, except for a few dark patches on his shoulders and legs. He stretched his aching back as he placed a perfect stick in the satchel at his side.
It was getting late and his bag was full. The meadow was not far from his colony, but there was one more stop to make before he went home. It was only a short detour, and his empty stomach would thank him for it. He hoped that he could catch Lady Carrion at her evening meal. He did love her food, so much that he made it a regular habit to arrive around meal times. Like all prairie dogs, his typical menu consisted of a variety of plants and insects. However, over time he had developed a taste for other foods. He was frequently invited to dine with his customers, but he had yet to find a chef that could top Lady Carrion's chicken stew. His youngest son, Pebble, shared his love for a variety of fares, and he often brought him home remnants of his dinner.
He had grown quite fond of Lady Carrion since she had arrived in the meadow, and thus, for her he had made an exception to one of his foremost rules. For the first time in his life, he had made a wand out of a spatula. She had wanted one so badly, and he had taken advantage of her generosity many times. She could not afford an Eni spatula wand, so he had fashioned one for her. It was a fine wand, but it drove him to fits to see her carrying it in her belt for all to see, with his bolt on the handle. There was no end to the amount of pestering he had to endure because of that one moment of benevolence. "No, no, no!" He thought out loud. That was the one and only spatula wand he would ever make.
Sticks were the only material to use to create a wand. All that other fancy stuff seemed pointless to him. Why you would want to make a wand out of something that already had a purpose was beyond him. Sure, he made exceptions on special occasions; a high paying request, a ceremonial sword, or things of that nature, but those were really just novelties in his eyes. Sticks however, had no purpose, and he thrived on giving them new life. The throngs of admirers that begged him to make a wand out of a hammer or a quill were merely looking for something to show off. They could patronize his competitor, Eni, for all he cared.
Creating a wand from a stick was easy. Interlacing the magical strands to make the constricted shaft for the power to be propelled through was the difficult part. Of course, you had to use sticks that were sturdy and had an appealing shape, then clean and polish them before creating the magical structure within, but that was all just pointless aesthetics to please the buyer. The raw structure of a stick could easily contain the magical strands that those gifted with the ability of wand making manipulated. Wand-Makers were the only ones able to see the magical strands, and they could draw them from Archana, mold them, and bind them to create a wand.
Gus and Pebble where the only ones in his colony who could see into that realm. He had devised a game to train his son in the art of wand-making. He would locate an item or a creature with a specific pattern of magical strands, and Pebble would have to guess what it was he had chosen based on clues. Pebble was young, however, and he often tried to play the game with his siblings who could not see what he saw. Gus had to remind him often that it wasn't fair to make them guess something they couldn't see.
He was heading south, parallel to the tree line, in the direction of Lady Carrion's cottage. He thought perhaps she would be preparing a potato soup, as the young tubers were most succulent that time of year. Suddenly, a noise from the woods caught his attention, and he turned his head to the left and stood upright in fear; just in time to see an arrow released from a bow. Gripped with anxiety, he was rooted in place by his terror. This is going to hurt, he thought. The arrow struck his leg on the back side of his thigh, nearly severing the muscle. He screamed out in pain and then fell to the ground, swearing at the hunter.
"You imbecile, have you ever shot a bow before today!?" He shouted, as he reached for his wand and began to heal his wound.
"I am sorry, sir!" He yelled, as he ran up to Gus. "I beg your forgiveness. I am so hungry that my arms are shaking at the tension of the bow."
"Well, that will happen if you are stupid enough to hunt this meadow!" He frowned up at a very apologetic man. "May Archana place many obstacles in your path as you hunt." He continued to work on his wounded leg. "How long have you been hunting this meadow anyway?"
"'Bout three days now, sir. I fell asleep, and I awoke just moments ago and saw you."
"And you had to bloody miss, didn't you?!" Gus interrupted.
"Well, sir, you don't present a very large target."
"I am a full eighteen inches, as you can easily see. I didn't even move!"
"Yes, sir, but you only weigh about three pounds."
"I was eighteen inches!" Gus interrupted again. "Now I'll be seventeen and three quarters and lean to the left, thanks to you!" He had stopped the bleeding and was working with his wand to end the pain. He mumbled under his breath as he worked. "They will have to change my name to Eileen. I've never seen a worse hunter in my life. I could have fed a starving man, my pups would have been proud; but no, this idiot had to miss a perfectly easy shot."
He did fear dying, as anyone in the sights of a hunter would; though he feared aging to decrepitude more. In all of the stories told, very few had made it to that sort of an end. The tales of those who had lived to old age all spoke of the pain they experienced. Some of them lost their mental capacity, or control of their bodily functions. There were terrible tales of disease, and the sadness of seeing all of their children die before them, loss of eye sight and being dependent on their family and friends to survive. Gus wanted to die nobly, to nourish an honorable hunter, but he feared it would not happen.
Gus was aware, due to an encounter with a See-er in his younger years, that he was destined never to be hunted. He was determined not to die a sad, lonely death of age and incapacity, and although it was an honorable goal, when a See-er showed a person their death they rarely escaped it.
When a hunt had been botched, there was nothing left for the hunter; honor would not allow him another shot, at least not at the same target. So, all that one could do was hope that his attempted prey would point him in the direction of a food source.
"My apologies sir, I assure you I would have honored you if I had bested you in the hunt. If you were incapacitated, I would have." He tried to appeal to Gus.
"Yes, you proved that by not killing me after your display of incompetence!" Gus yelled back.
"Once again, I beg your forgiveness, sir. I will leave you to heal and be on my way." He roused himself to leave.
Gus watched as he gathered his belongings, still healing his leg with his wand. Healing a severed muscle took time, even with a great wand like his. His anger had finally begun to subside as the man headed back into the trees. Honor got the best of him, and he hated himself for giving in to it.
"Wait, hunter!" He watched as the man came striding back.
"Sir?" He halted about half way back, afraid he would be verbally assaulted again.
"You are the world's worst hunter!" Gus barked at him. The man looked thoroughly annoyed, and Gus knew he should be happy to have survived their encounter. After a long moment, each staring hatefully at the other, Gus began again with less anger in his voice. "But you showed honor in your hunt." He paused again. "If you travel in that direction you will go another three days without food."
"I will be in your debt, indeed, if you tell me which direction to travel." The hunter approached, and knelt in front of Gus.
Gus took a deep breath, angry at himself for giving up the information. The hunter did not deserve it after the terrible way he had performed with his bow, and yet he felt pity for the young lad.
"A short walk to the northeast," he shook his head, not believing he would help the fool that had put him in such a foul mood, "there is a meadow, slightly larger than this one." He got up, testing his weight on his leg and wincing. "There are about four hundred prairie dogs living there."
The man stood, looking in the direction he had indicated, eager to leave yet aware that Gus had not finished.
"Listen up, boy!" Gus was angered by his inattention.
"But the light is almost gone!"
"Yes, and sight is only one of your issues. That lousy aim of yours is another. So listen to me!" Gus paused and pointed at the ground for him to kneel again. The hunter shot him an irritated look, but he did as he was told. "Twenty minutes in that same direction you will find a raspberry bush. Stop-there-and-eat!" He gritted his teeth with very pronounced pauses between the words. Then Gus walked close to the man and kicked him in the knee with his newly healed leg. "Then rest! You will hunt much better if you can handle the tension of the bow, you fool!"
"Yes, you are right, thank you, sir. You honor me." He bowed to show respect. "May I have your name?"
Gus looked at the man, weighing in his mind if he should tell him. Deciding it would be more torturous if he did, he quickly replied, "Gus."
The man's face went white, and he asked, "The..."
Quickly Gus replied, interrupting the man again, "Yes, that is me," as he shook his head, "and no, I'm not going to be making you a wand today! You have gotten quite enough out of me already, haven't you?"
The man backed up, nodding his head in agreement. "Yes, sir!"
"Now, be off with you." The man began to walk north east. "You might be able to curry some favor by ridding me of another mouth to feed, mighty hunter!" He called, with a snort of bitterness as he resumed his walk south toward Lady Carrion and her wonderful food.
He hoped that he would catch her making dinner for herself, although she would gladly make him dinner if he asked, it did not feel the same as showing up just as she pulled a minced meat pie out of the oven. She was a talented cook, and he knew she loved to be appreciated for it, so they both benefited from the arrangement. Besides, the minced meat pie was well worth the gas it gave him. After the incident with the pathetic hunter, he could use a warm, home cooked meal. It was shortly after eight, by his reckoning, and that was about the right time. His evening might still have a high point left.
Time passed quickly as he complained to himself while walking toward her home. As he approached, he could smell fresh baked bread and beef stew, and could see the smoke coming from the brick chimney as he made his way to the cobblestone path that led to her door. His mouth watered in anticipation of the meal.
A bright flash in the western sky, in the direction of Stanton, stopped his progress. That's odd, he thought, he did not see any clouds, perhaps they are setting off some more fireworks. As he approached the steps, he felt a strong gust of wind that set in the chill from an already cold day. He could not wait to step inside and feel the warmth of the fire, and eat some of the delicious food he could smell. At last, he came to the door and pulled on the rope she had dropped down for when he visited, and he heard a bell chime within the house.
"Come in, Gus." Announced a delighted voice from inside. Gus walked in through the small door she had hinged especially for him. "You are just in time, I was pouring a bowl of stew. Would you like some?" She asked knowingly, as she ladled soup into a second bowl. Her light blue dress and white apron swirled around her ankles as she gathered dishes and bread to accompany the stew. Her long brown hair was tied back in a tail to keep it out of her way while cooking.
Not wanting to give his intentions away, and acting his role in their mutual arrangement, Gus spoke with an affectionate flare.
"Why, Miss Carrion, I was just in this area and wanted to see if I might borrow your sink to wash my sticks before I brought them home." He swept one paw out before him and bent his small body in an exaggerated bow as she turned toward him. "However, I would be a fool to turn down such a delightful smelling meal from a beautiful lady such as yourself!"
"Oh, Gus, you are such a flatterer." She said with a genuine smile, as she moved to make sure her spatula wand could be seen in her belt ."My days of being a Miss are long since over, as you well know," shaking her finger playfully at him, "but I am delighted to have your company, as always." She turned back to cut bread for them both. Gus set his satchel of sticks on the ground in front of her sink and climbed up to the table while she finished preparing their meal.
He heard a commotion outside, and stood erect on his hind legs to allow him to see past Lady Carrion out the window. There were several men running through the meadow. One man stopped, catching his breath, and spoke to her nearest neighbor out for an evening stroll. His arms waving wildly, and pointing in the direction of Stanton, he appeared to be in a panic. Lady Carrion cast a confused look at Gus as they watched a second man run up to her house, his breathing labored from the distance he had covered, and knock frantically at the door.
"Come in." She said timidly, not knowing what to expect. Gus remained standing to better see him as he entered.
The man opened the door only enough to stick his head in, and reported, "Something occurred at the palace during the ratification ceremony. The palace collapsed in on itself. We are asking all able to lend aid to report immediately. The situation is dire." Then, just as quickly as he had arrived, he fled, running toward the tree line to continue spreading the news. The door slammed shut where his head had been. Lady Carrion looked baffled, but Gus patted her hand and then jumped down to the floor.
"Do you still have the wands I left here for safe keeping?" Gus asked, thinking quickly.
"Yes, of course."
"Give me a lift to the sink. I'll rinse these sticks while you grab the wands and your bag." She lifted him gently, and went to find the wands he spoke of. When she returned, he had a pile of clean sticks sitting on the edge of the counter. "Put the wands in at the bottom, and make sure they are covered; I don't want to mix these up." She did as he said and held her bag at the edge of the counter so he could push in the sticks and jump in himself. "You will pardon me for hitching a ride? My left leg isn't what it used to be and I would just slow you down." He kept speaking as she grabbed her cloak and the bag and headed out the door. "I'll have these made into wands by the time we arrive in Stanton."
"Why so many?"
"Because today, I am giving them away."