After field dressing the animal he began dragging the carcass down to the trail to his waiting steed.
Eran loved the hunt. He had spent years honing his skills with the bow and prided himself on his skill.
After reaching his horse, he slung the stag across its back. The cottage was close, so he determined that he would just walk the horse along, leading it by the bridle.
As he walked along his heel caught on a protruding rock and he fell. He felt something in his ankle snap and a searing pain radiated up along his calf. He tried to stand but could not. He sat back down. The distance back to the cottage now increased in his mind. He did not want to crawl.
He lay back on the ground, closed his eyes and opened the channel that he had used so many times before. She would be here soon.
Keera paused as she tended her herb garden. She reveled in the potpourri of fragrances exuded by the multitude of flowers. She brushed her hand against the mints, releasing their delicious scent. The hum of bees filled the quiet summer evening as they tended their duties among the blossoms. Butterflies flickered about. She could hear the cries of the hawk as it flew in circles overhead in its relentless search for prey. She could hear Aunt Jara humming a sweet melody as she tended the vegetable nearby. She arose and turned. The view, though she had seen it many times, still caught her breath. The River Fleet fell into its valley, cascading across the rocks as it fled its source below the Crystalcrest just a short distance above.
Aris and Turis were away, in that far away cottage on the road to Cleery in Torne. Aris was completing his studies as a Wizard of the Golden Star. She sighed when she thought of him. Though raised as brother and sister, she knew that they were not. She wondered if he thought of her as his sister. She hoped that he did not.
A familiar feeling touched her mind. Eran. He needed her. She closed her eyes and allowed his thoughts to find her. She could see him lying along the road, pain flooding his body. She opened her eyes and glanced towards Jara.
"I have to go, Aunt Jara. Eran needs me."
Jara turned and glanced at Keera.
"What is wrong, my dear?"
"I don't know. He is lying on the trail below the cottage. He is in pain."
She hastened towards the road.
Jara stood watching the girl walk away. She was still uneasy about the girl's ability. Jara had trained Keera as a healer. She had used the knowledge to combine it with that other skill that appeared as a natural gift. Jara knew that it was not a natural gift, though. Her mother's ordeal at the hands of the Mind Readers had influenced her and had absorbed some of the magic of that forbidden order. She and Turis had managed to hide her ability from the Grand Council of the Five Orders. The training as a healer had been a ruse, a cover for her real abilities. The skill involved forbidden magic. Vella and her Order of the Mind Reader’s near victory over the Council had reinforced the need for the ban. The members of that sordid order all died at the Battle of the Crystal so many years before. All died, except Vella. She had disappeared. Nuvan Gra, a Wizard of the Golden Star, had taken up the quest to find her. So far, his hunt had been unsuccessful.
She wiped her hands on her apron, stood up and hastened to follow Keera. If Eran was hurt, Keera might need her help.
Descending the road, she soon found Keera kneeling beside her brother. She watched as the girl bade her brother to lie flat on the road. She touched her brother's forehead and closed her eyes. After a few moments, she removed her hand, stood up and took her brother's hand. The young man arose and stepped gingerly on his foot.
"It is better, Keera. Thank you."
"The bone will still be weak for a couple of days, Eran. It will be best if you do not put your full weight on it. I will help you mount the horse. You must ride back to the cottage. I will find a suitable branch from the forest for you to use as a crutch and we can prepare this stag."
Eran smiled and allowed her to help him into the saddle and the three returned to the cottage.
Morning broke across the valley, the deep shadows of the lower elevations melting away as the sun crept higher in the sky. Keera glanced at the western sky. The sun's light would not last long. Dark clouds were appearing on the western horizon. She glanced up to see Eran, hobbling on his makeshift crutch, and coming out of the house. His face lit with pleasure when he saw her.
"It is a wonderful morning, Keera."
"For not much longer, I fear, Eran. There are storm clouds to the west."
Eran's eyes flicked to the western sky behind her. "Yes, the upper slopes of Crystalcrest are already under assault from the rain."
"I have only to pick a few more sprigs of these herbs, Eran. They are so much more fragrant when gathered in the morning."
Eran lay his crutch on the ground. "I don't think I need this anymore. My foot feels fine. I will help you carry those baskets into the cottage."
Keera opened her mouth to protest when she saw a flickering bird gliding high in the sky above her. The hawk whose cries she had heard the night before circled above the bird.
"A yuhma bird is here, Eran. It was probably a message from Turis. That hawk may get it before it can deliver its message."
Eran turned and looked up to see the hawk begin its dive. He dropped the crutch, withdrew his wand and conjured a whirlwind that spun the bird around, disorienting it.
The confused hawk fell to the earth, unhurt. Eran knew that the hawk would awaken, disoriented, after he had retrieved the yuhma bird.
He lifted his hand to allow the yuhma bird to light on his finger. He unrolled the parchment and studied the writing it contained.
"It is from Turis. He requests that we come to his cottage in Torne immediately."
"I would love to go, Eran. I have never been to that cottage."
"I don't think it is good for us both to leave."
"I want to go, Eran."
"You would leave Aunt Jara alone."
A voice from behind them said, "I will be fine here. The two of you should go."
Eran turned to face Jara, who was standing behind him. "If you think you will be fine here?"
"I will be. Does Turis say why he wants you?"
"No, he doesn't. It just says we should leave as soon as I can."
"Give me that note," said Keera. She held the note in her hand, running her fingers over the parchment.
"Something worried him when he wrote it," she said. "I can sense his concern in the parchment, but I cannot tell what bothered him.
"Then the two of you should go right away," said Jara. "Whatever it was is substantial. It takes something serious to worry Turis."
The brother and sister began walking towards the cottage to prepare for their journey.
Jara said, "Just be careful, Keera. Do not let anyone see your ability."
Keera smiled and nodded. The two young people disappeared into the cottage.
Jara watched them go inside the building. She felt uneasy. She did not have Keera's ability. She did not need it. Rumors of events inside Torne had reached her ears, even here at this remote spot. There were events that involved the brother and sister's uncle Ruther. Turis had feared that something would erupt. Perhaps that something was happening now.