They left their caves at first light and made it to the Full homeland while it was still early. Then they traveled north. Jorn left Nehma to tend the sail while he took his rope and flew to the shoreline. From there, he could search for any sign of another herd and still see Nehma. Below him were trails and several farms, but he hoped he was high enough to avoid detection. When they passed another village though, he flew far out to sea, motioning Nehma to make the same wide circuit. He saw various creatures that he could not identify, but it wasn’t until almost noon when he saw the flying elk. They were a little inland, and Jorn was forced to leave Nehma as he cautiously flew to them.
They were indeed a different herd, and they were not as wary as the first herd he’d encountered. Soon they were letting him play their flying games. Jorn guessed that this herd did not live near enough to the Fulls to have been chased. He hated that he would change that. A healthy baby female was overly curious about him, and she kept coming boldly near him, racing under him and then lifting her nose to touch him before darting away. Jorn grinned. She was the one he wanted, but he kept playing, reluctant to startle this gentle, playful herd.
He teased the female back by speeding up to her and touching her back. She arched her neck, and her nose bumped his face. Pain radiated through his face from his nose. Then something splattered into his eye, the wind making it even harder to see. Great. His nose was bleeding.
Jorn sailed down into the trees, landing in a small clearing. He pulled his tunic off and held it to his nose, hanging his head and hoping the bleeding would stop. A soft nose nuzzled his bare chest. Jorn took the cloth away from his face and smiled. “I know you didn’t mean it, little one.” He caressed her head.
The mother elk landed near them and snorted. The baby acknowledged its mother, but continued to accept Jorn’s caresses.
Slowly, the mother walked toward them. She pretended indifference, first nibbling on a bush, and then a few tree leaves. When she was inches from him, she brought her huge muzzle to sniff his chest and face. Jorn ran his hands over her. She was a beautiful female and her calf would be just as majestic. The baby butted against him, begging for the attention that he’d turned to its mother. He didn’t want to break their trust. He decided he couldn’t capture the calf against its will — not when they trusted him so fully.
He kept caressing them until he knew he needed to get going. The sun had shifted, and even the elk were getting restless. “Goodbye, precious ones. Hopefully I’ll see you again.” With one final caress, he sprung into the air.
When he was up high enough, he saw the ocean in the distance. He’d gone farther inland than he’d thought, and to the east, south, and north, the land seemed to go on forever. The Full homeland was indeed far larger than the Mersue home, but it wasn’t very populated either.
He grinned to see his two friends flying with him, but he didn’t see the rest of the herd. As he flew west, his friends followed. He wondered how long they’d stay with him.
When he reached the ocean, he finally spotted Nehma, and he dived toward the boat. The elk followed. Jorn landed.
“Where have you been?” Nehma asked frantically. “You’ve been hurt. Blood everywhere.” Nehma was beside him.
“I’m fine,” Jorn said, trying to avoid him, but not succeeding in the small boat. “Just a nose bleed.”
The two elk dived close to the boat, but then rose again.
Nehma dunked. “They’re trying to kill you, and you don’t even have one.”
Jorn laughed. “No. They just want to keep playing. You start toward home. I better fly. I wonder how long until they get bored.” He leapt into the air.
But the elk didn’t get bored. They were far over the ocean now, and Jorn didn’t know how long they could fly without rest, especially the calf. He spotted an island, and motioned Nehma to it.
It was dusk when they met on the small beach. “I can’t believe it,” he said when Nehma jogged to him and the two elk. “They want to stay with me.”
Nehma looked a bit awed. “Zander said he’d heard they were bred to bond to people.” He tentatively caressed the baby, and she responded with enthusiastic nuzzling.
“I think they’re going to follow us all the way home.”
“Yeah, about that. Let’s clean you up so you don’t scare Treliss. I assume she is still the one who will care for them.”
“Maybe the adult will let her ride soon! We’ll have to find out from Zander how it’s done.” Jorn could hardly believe these two gentle creatures had followed him without a struggle. He submitted to Nehma as he cleansed his face, not wincing at the pain.
“You’re pretty bruised up. What did you do?”
“Baby and I bumped noses in flight. Doesn’t look like it hurt her at all. We’ve got to keep going.” He wanted to get the elk home before they changed their mind about him. He went to caress them. “You can start out. We fly faster than you sail.”
Nehma left them. Jorn caressed the two deer for a while trying to seal whatever bond had kept them with him so far. They stopped twice more, the final stop being Ironwood Island. “Go around home. I’m going to take these two straight to Treliss. There’s room in the North cave if they want to spend the night inside.”
Nehma hesitated. Jorn could barely see his face in the dark. “Perhaps I should alert Belna and Thenorn so that they can issue an alert. We don’t want anyone hunting them.”
Jorn’s gut lurched in alarm. He’d never considered that other hunters would find them a large, easy target. “Yes. Please make sure he agrees. They can’t be hunted.”
They parted, and Jorn led his new friends into the air for the final part of the journey.
Treliss was just putting away the rope she had finished weaving. She should get some sleep. She heard a noise from the main cavern and cocked her head to listen closer. She’d decided to make her home here when it was offered to her, because it had an interior as well as exterior entrance, and more importantly, Merfa wouldn’t be close enough to demand all her time. But if Elfa hadn’t told her it would be better for her to go, she wouldn’t have. He didn’t like Merfa’s badgering of her either, but he rarely spoke up. When Grandelma was alive, she’d given all kinds of excuses to keep Treliss from Merfa’s demands, but Grandelma was dead, and Grandmerma now lived with Elfa’s sibling’s cluster.
But regardless of her reasons for accepting the responsibility of the large north cave, she was still not used to the echoing noises or the loneliness. Sometimes she thought that even Merfa’s badgering was better than being completely alone. She wasn’t alone as much during the day. The cave was used by many to process large or group hunts, as well as the girls’ classes that came. But at night, she heard the noises.
It was a clipping, a clicking noise this time, like something hard hitting the stone work area.
And then she heard her name. Her heart stopped. Was it really Jorn’s voice? Jorn was one of the few males who treated her kindly. And he’d spoken up for her to the elders. He was so gentle when he’d comforted her. And she’d guessed that the only reason they began music lessons was to help her be accepted, although she suspected that he liked them now. Yet she could never let anyone know that she sometimes dreamed of being his mate. He would avoid her if he knew, and anyone else would tease her. She, the deformed, sisterless woman, mate to the highest ranked young Elsue? Oh, how the others would tease.
He called again, jerking her from her paralysis. He and Nehma must have a boatload of bounty to be processed. She ran into the huge outer cavern and stopped. A large creature stood in the work area, its head towering over Jorn. A smaller one stood beside it. If not for the carving, she’d have never guessed what the beast was, and never had she considered that they were so big.
Jorn saw her. “It’s okay, Treliss. They’re gentle.” He beckoned her forward.
Only her deep respect for Jorn kept her from shrinking back and hiding. Slowly she made her way to him. His face was shadowed, but she thought he might be injured. His tunic was missing also. He seemed somehow wild and dangerous, standing between the two beasts.
“Come on,” he beckoned again. “Touch them. You need to bond with them.”
She laughed nervously. “Bond with them?”
“Yeah. They were designed to bond to people. If they like you, they’ll stick with you for life. Bond with them, Treliss.” At her hesitation, he stepped forward and took her hand, dragging her closer and placing her hand on the large snout of the elk.
“Jorn!” She tried to jerk away, but he wouldn’t let her. The baby butted up against her, and Jorn finally released her hand as she brought her arms down around it. The baby leaned into her caresses as if it enjoyed them immensely. She smiled. “It is adorable,” she said, focusing on the manageable baby and not the huge mother.
“I knew you’d like them.”
She smiled at him. “They’re beautiful. Are they going to live on the island now?”
He frowned and looked toward the empty mouth of the cave. “I hope so. If the elders approve and make a restriction against hunting them. If they don’t I’ll have to take them back.”
But then Thenorn and Katarn flew into the cave. The flying elk shifted and eyed them as they landed. “Wow, Jorn. What have you done here?” Katarn said in his deep tenor voice. “You want to start a herd of flying elk on the island? What made you decide to do that?”
“Now, Katarn, let’s wait for our brothers.”
“Of course, of course,” Katarn agreed, but kept his gaze fastened to the large elk. “You think they’re dangerous?”
“Just look at his face,” Thenorn said.
Katarn turned his attention from the flying elk, as did Treliss. Jorn was injured. His whole face seemed to be one big bruise. Katarn drew in a deep breath and stepped back from the elk.
“I’m not hurt,” Jorn said in an obvious lie. “I just bumped noses with Baby while we were playing in flight. It was an accident. They’re very gentle.”
Belna, Fenna, and Nehma emerged from the water. “Oh, but they’re bigger than I thought,” Fenna said, staying near the edge of the stone work area.
Nehma walked over to join Jorn. The elk greeted him warmly, looking for his caresses.
Thenorn cocked his head to the right. “Well, Treliss. It’s up to you. Do you really want to try this experiment?”
Treliss glanced at Jorn. “I . . . er . . . what do you want me to do?”
Nehma rolled his eyes. “Haven’t you told her yet?”
“She was just getting to know them. I haven’t had time.”
Treliss felt her stomach churn.
“Well, Jorn,” Thenorn said. “I understand it is your idea, so tell her about it.”
“You’ll make the announcement so no one hunts them, won’t you?”
“If Treliss agrees with your somewhat crazy idea, we’ll put a ban on to see if it works out.”
Since it appeared no one would tell her, she turned to Jorn. “What do you want me to do?” she asked again. She suspected she’d do anything he asked, but she feared what that might be.
“You can bond with them.”
“You said that. But bonding can’t mean the same thing as . . . as sisters.”
“No. Not exactly. But she’ll be loyal to you.”
“If she’s not permanently bonded to you,” Nehma muttered so low that Treliss did not think his voice carried to the elders who were keeping a healthy distance from the flying elk.
“But why would we want that?”
“So you can fly!”
“What? You can’t be serious.” She felt herself trembling. She stepped back, but Nehma was the one who touched her arm, stopping her.
“If a Full is fortunate enough to gain the trust of one, it allows that person to ride on its back and goes wherever he wants to go. We have to find out more about how the flying elk knows where to go, and how the person doesn’t fall off, but the first step is forming a deep friendship. Come, caress them. Care for them.”
Treliss tried to stop trembling, but couldn’t. She saw Jorn push against the mother elk as if pushing her toward Treliss. The elk complied, taking a step in her direction and then lowering its huge head to Treliss. She looked into the large, gentle eyes, and slowly the trembling stopped. She caressed the soft skin of its face.
“You must name them,” Jorn said. “Stay with them. Show them the island. Be friends with them. We’ll find out more about flying next time . . . .”
Elder Thenorn interrupted, “Yes, we’ll worry about flying at a later date. Now Treliss, are you sure you want to have responsibility for this creature?”
“I really don’t see how she can,” Belna said.
“She can,” Jorn insisted.
Treliss took a deep breath. Jorn wanted her to care for a flying elk, the symbol of his cluster. No matter how scared she was, she felt he was offering her a great honor, as if he’d asked her to look after his children. “I’ll do it.”
Jorn gave her one of his very rare smiles. “I knew you’d love one. I just hoped to catch you a baby, but then I couldn’t separate them and thought . . . but they came with me anyway. I didn’t have to capture them.”
Thenorn stepped a bit closer, and the elkma shifted away from him and closer to Treliss. She smiled, in spite of the tension. “Jorn,” Thenorn said, “I think we’ve all spent quite enough time here tonight. And I’ll need you and Nehma alert at first light to pass on the message of a special meeting right after morning meal.”
Jorn gave the elkma another pat. “Stay with Treliss.” He directed her snout to Treliss. “Stay with her,” he said again. He jumped into the air. The elkma lifted her wings, and Jorn swooped down. “Stay with Treliss,” he commanded.
Treliss caressed the big elk’s nose. “Stay with me,” she whispered to it. The elkma blew air into her face and relaxed. Jorn shot out into the night.
The elders took to the air and dived into the water with Nehma. All of them leaving and splashing at once, caused the elkma to startle. When Treliss realized the elkma was distressed, she focused on calming her, and soon the two relaxed with her.
After while she began to wonder what she was to do with the two, and finally decided to let them have the earthen floor cavern near the interior exit. They’d be able to enter and leave at will. She hoped that was the right thing to do, but then she was afraid to leave them. Jorn had trusted her to keep them safe. She ended up sleeping in the same cavern with them, the baby curled up beside her.
Dr. Ryans had just given Zander leave to go visit with Lady for a few minutes, when they heard the door to the clinic open. Dr. Ryans gave Zander a wry smile. “Guess that visit will have to wait. Go greet them. If it’s someone to settle accounts, tell them I’ll be right there. If they need treatment, settle them into the exam room.” He turned to the basin to wash his hands.
Zander rushed through the hall to the front of the house and stopped in the doorway to the waiting room.
“There you are,” his father said. “What’s all this I’m hearing about you? How’d you get yourself a wingdeer.”
“A . . . a friend. He gave her to me,” Zander stumbled. His father didn’t look happy at all.
“Who would give you a wingdeer? Your only friend is Ethan Andiyar, and he says he knows nothing about it.”
“I have other friends,” Zander said, trying not to cringe at his tone. It was true that Zander had never had as many friends as his brothers, but then Zander didn’t think most of his brothers’ friends would be their friend in a crises. Ethan, at least, had remained his friend even after he’d crippled himself. But Ethan hadn’t had much time for friendship as he had to do most of the work on the farm with his father’s illness. Zander now saw Mr. Andiyar more than Ethan because he was a regular patient of Dr. Ryans.
“Now tell me the truth. Where did you get that wingdeer? I won’t tolerate any boy of mine to start thieving.”
“A friend caught it for me.”
His father rolled his eyes. “No one is going to catch a wingdeer and just hand it over. Now where’d you get it?”
“Actually,” Dr. Ryans said from behind Zander, making Zander jump in surprise. “I saw his friend catch the wingdeer and hand it over. A pretty foolhardy act, I agree. His friend nearly had his head kicked in.”
His father hesitated. It was one thing to rant and yell at Zander, but quite another to disagree with the doctor. “You actually saw this alleged friend? Who was he?”
“Never saw him before. I assume someone from out of town. Zander sees them only about twice a month.”
“Who are they, Zander?”
“They don’t live around here. They come to . . . to trade sometimes. I . . . I’ve traded a couple carvings and . . . and things.”
“A couple carvings for a wingdeer?” his father asked skeptically.
“I still owe them for that,” Zander acknowledged.
“You’re crazy. I won’t have you in debt to anyone.”
Dr. Ryans now stepped between Zander and his father. “I know you are concerned for your son, but I believe he is now responsible for his own actions, and if any legal ramifications occur, they will fall on me. I have already registered him with Alexandria’s Teaching Hospital as my apprentice.”
“Then you make sure he returns that wingdeer. It ain’t right he have one. No one else in Worthington does.”
“I’m afraid the little one has had ample opportunity to return to the wild, but she always seeks Zander out. It is too late. The wingdeer has bonded to him.”
His father’s jaw clenched, and his face became red. But before he exploded, he whirled around and stomped out of the clinic.
Zander sagged against the wall. Dr. Ryans took his arm and led him to a chair. “Sit.”
“I’m okay,” Zander whispered, but he sat and took a deep breath to level his emotions. “Never thought it’d cause this much trouble.”
Dr. Ryans sat beside him and studied him closely.
Suddenly Zander remembered his words. “You saw them?”
Dr. Ryans nodded. “Wouldn’t mind meeting them, as it seems you’ve gotten me into this mess of yours.”
“But . . . but they’re afraid that . . . that they might be hunted.”
“I understand. I wouldn’t do anything to harm them. Why do they want medical knowledge?”
Zander relaxed a little. “Jorn and Nehma have been apprenticing to their doctors for a year now. We’re sharing what we learn. I . . . well, let me get my papers.”
He ran upstairs and came back with the pouch of papers that Nehma had given him. “This is their books.” He handed him the thick pages with Nehma’s writing.
Dr. Owens read silently over the sheets of medicines and dosages. “Hmmm. I see they’ve been assigned to learn their medications first also.”
“They have many more books, but they probably won’t have time to copy them until winter. They can’t do as much during the winter.”
“I imagine not.”
“I . . . I was hoping to eventually grow some of our plants for them.”
“Which is why you asked me whether a new plant needed to be grown from seed or cutting,” he said still looking over the sheets.
“Have you really registered me as your apprentice?”
Dr. Ryans grinned at him. “Not yet. But I plan to.” Then he shrugged. “The hardest part about that, is that I’m not qualified to teach you all the way through. You’ll have to take four or five years in Alexandria, and I’ll lose you for a while. I won’t register you until I know you’re committed to take that step.”
“Alexandria is a long way from here,” Zander said, knowing that he’d never see Jorn and Nehma while he was there.
“You’ll have to get a job to work your way through. I worked at the tannery across the way, and I can write a letter to see if they can use you. But you have time to decide. Let your wingdeer grow up first so you can ride her.” He grinned then. “If you can figure out how to save up for a saddle with all the food she’s eating.”
“I’m to meet them day after tomorrow. I’m not sure if . . . .”
Dr. Ryans clasped his shoulder. “Go see Lady. Not even this decision needs to be made today.”
Zander shot outside. Lady spotted him and dived to greet him. As he held her, he realized that it was a relief to share his secret with someone, and he really did trust Dr. Ryans.
The next afternoon Dr. Ryans returned from an outing. “I bought a rowboat.”
“Actually I accepted it as payment for helping old man Rally with his emphysema. I figure it probably isn’t safe to keep using your father’s boat. Mine is in one of old man Rally’s sheds.” Old man Rally owned a parcel of land south of the village. He always claimed he was a farmer, but he’d never cleared more than a small square of the land. Mostly he kept goats which roamed the woods and hid from the dragons in his many rickety sheds.
Zander nodded. Dr. Ryans was right. His father wanted to find out what he was up to. He may become suspicious if he caught him using the rowboat much more. “Good idea,” he acknowledged. “Thanks.”
But later in bed, Zander acknowledged that the doctor had effectively invited himself to come along on his visits with Nehma. He hoped it was the right thing to do.
Go to Chapter 16
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.