Voidwalker: Chapter Four, p7

Taral absently watched the child rush ahead of the group, almost disappearing in the undergrowth. She had mostly stuck to Lyara since he dropped her off in the camp, but kept clinging to him whenever she got frightened. Or hungry. Or sad. Or anything.

“Like Nyx, but bigger,” he mumbled to himself.

“-don’t see why we can’t just reason with them,” the hunter beside him finished her comment, apparently unaware that he had completely missed out on everything she said.

“They’re trolls. We could barely reason with them under the faeries’ spell, how’d you plan to do so when they’re in a bloodlust?” He glanced at the forest behind them.

Nyx hadn’t been around when Taral returned to the dead boar. Not that he’d been too surprised, the creature had probably gotten bored and wandered off, but he was starting to worry about it still not having shown up. It was unlike Nyx to not be around for so many nights.

Maybe it had been swallowed by the Hungering Darkness that had been biting off bits and pieces of the forest the past few seasons. Or maybe it’d been eaten by a passing animal… Hopefully not – that’s how you end up with mandragoras, or so the tales told.

He’d never actually seen such a creature himself, nor had any of his kin as far as he knew. And for all the trouble Nyx kept getting itself into, it had never been eaten.

A shudder ran down his spine at the thought of his companion meeting such a fate. Bad enough to become a snack, but to then become an undead abomination- “Daaaaaad!”

Taral took a few running strides at the sound of the girl’s cry, clearing the forest edge before stopping when he realized they had reached the humans and the girl was bolting for one of the people working on the outskirts.

“You ready, Tar-lagh?” Lyara fluttered over to him. He was supposed to go talk to the humans, with her translating. Because he’d been the unlucky one who found the girl. Because he’d been stupid enough to save her.

He grunted and followed the girl with Lyara flitting about him impatiently. He halted at a bit of distance, waiting for the bearded human to notice him. The man was kneeling, arms wrapped tightly around the girl and tears streaming down their faces. Taral wondered if all humans got this emotional when greeting their children, or just this one.

“That’s a man, right?” He asked Lyara, not wanting to repeat the mistake he had made with the girl.

“Yupp,” Lyara giggled, apparently still finding his confusion funny. Taral did not much care, glancing around at the other humans that had begun to gather.

In the distance he could see a group of humans running in his direction, their charge led by one in a dress. At first he thought Jaeworl had failed, but then he realized they weren’t holding any weapons. Was it so rare for a child to wander off for a few nights that it warranted the whole village come meet them?

“Hey! Tar-LAGH!” Lyara poked him hard in the cheek, drawing his attention. The human was repeating some phrase at him, his face still wet with tears. Taral had no clue what the man was saying, but his wide smile spoke volumes.

Taral attempted to acknowledge his gratitude with a curt nod and a smile he hoped did not look as terse as it felt.

“This is Anna’s father. Seems they thought she was dead. She got… eaten by magic, I think? I think she got eaten by the Darkness, but I’m not sure…” Lyara tried her best to explain what the man was saying.

Suddenly she flew off, drawing a surprised yelp from the girl’s father as she darted past him toward a fat human and an elderly fetchling that had just rounded a corner. Taral breathed a sigh of relief. Jaeworl had arrived to take care of this… talking.

***

Jaeworl let out a long sigh and slumped his shoulders in defeat. His kin were camped in the forest outside the village, trying to find some sort of shared path with the humans for handling the trolls. Being the only one with any experience at all with both worlds, he had ended up being the one to figure out how to splice the two tribes.

Even with skirmishes already taking place against lone trolls, there seemed to be little agreement. The humans kept refusing to share their resources without getting something in return, a notion the fetchlings did not understand and one they felt unfair. That the humans were rushed in their tasks and rash in their decisions, never taking the time to think things through at length, did little to help them win any favor with the fetchlings.

The fetchlings were no better, being unwilling to adapt to their new environment and sticking stubbornly to their old ways of communally sharing, taking what they needed. To the humans their relaxed attitude of enjoying life first and doing things only when they needed to be done seemed indolent while their refusal to adapt appeared arrogant. Their taking what they needed without consulting the humans made them ‘thieves’, a concept utterly alien to his kin and something the humans seemed to care little for.

To Jaeworl, though, it was apparent that both sides were trying.

The humans were being quite generous, by their standards. Despite having lost a lot of food to the strange magic plaguing the forest, they freely shared what they could spare even though they might risk starvation come winter. They took their time to explain to the fetchlings what ‘trade’ meant, usually even letting his kin change their minds, a courtesy he had noticed they did not extend to each other. The fetchlings, meanwhile, took only what they needed and tried their best to keep up with the humans’ pace.

“I still can’t believe ye found Anna. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think we’d be getting along nearly as well as we are.” Marcus, the portly elder who had initially spoken with Jaeworl, remarked. “And at least it’s gotten a bit better, eh?”

He was doubtlessly referring to events when the fetchlings had first arrived in the village, almost twenty nights ago.

There had been a lot of anger over past raids against the village, misunderstandings, and other difficulties. More than one brawl had broken out before Jaeworl helpfully convinced the fetchlings to move out into the forest so that some common behaviours could be laid out for both groups in dealing with the other.

Jaeworl nodded in agreement. Anna’s safe return had earned the fetchlings a lot of goodwill, yet the inevitable clash between different ways of life had already eroded much of that. As today’s events had proven.

“The question’s where do we go from here? We don’t have time for this if we’re to get some sort of barricade ready a‘fore the trolls show up,” Marcus continued, looking out the window.

They were seated in a rather spacious, if humble, hollow built by Magistrate. Jaeworl had not personally seen him, but from what his kin had to say the man towered over the other villagers and likely needed a bit of extra space. He wondered just how big this man was, for his hollow seemed large enough for even the hulking trolls to comfortably fit.

“I do not understand why you insist on these unnatural homes,” Jaeworl commented idly, trying to figure out an answer to the man’s question. Marcus stared at the forest outside as if expecting the trees to provide him an answer. Jaeworl could not help but be a little amused by the irony of the druid not being the one looking to the forest for guidance.

Marcus turned to him with a confused look. “Ours are unnatural?” He seemed amused by the very notion. “Ain’t a single piece of our houses that didn’t come from nature. You’re the ones what use magic for shelter.”

It was a harmless enough comment, but it turned Jaeworl’s perspective on its side. The man had seen the hollows fetchlings lived in. Natural burrows in trees and under rocks, little entrances that were part of the forest but which led into small pockets of the fae lands. Jaeworl and his disciples sought out these hollows, shaped and grew them, but most could not create them.

Marcus was both right and wrong.

To him, natural meant part of this world, part of the lands around him. Things everyone could touch, without magic or aid. To the forestfolk, nature was all things that were as they were on their own. That their differences ran so deep had completely escaped Jaeworl.

Not that it helped him figure out how to move forward.

“Maybe we ought to start small.” Marcus had gone back to looking out the window, staring at the trees. “Fences won’t hold off the trolls, but if’n we reinforce them some… That ought to slow them down enough for an extra volley of arrows.”

It took Jaeworl a moment to realize the man had stopped trying to figure out what to do about the two populations and moved on to the bigger problem of the trolls.

“We’re in a good enough place that we can work together on something like that, don’t ye think?”

Or maybe he was thinking of something that would help with both.

Jaeworl nodded, suddenly realizing that these humans might have a bit more wisdom than he had expected them to.

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