THUD! Thud! Rafie started, vision swirling around her as she struggled to wake up. Thud! There was a pounding on her door, that’s what woke her up. She pushed herself to her feet and stumbled over the egg that had seemingly rolled off its nest, momentarily confused, the urgency of the knocking pulled her back to the present. She scooped up the egg and opened the door.
“Please, Rafie, please, come with us, Jesel is missing, he’s gone!” A hunch backed woman, who she recognised as Anni, the local village’s resident mother hen, grabbed fearfully at Rafie’s sleeve.
“Anni, slow down. I need to get my things; What happened?” She turned back into the cottage.
“No we have no time, he’s been gone all night.” Tears streamed down her face, her whole body was shaking.
“I’ll only be a second.” Rafie placed the egg back in the nest, then grabbed her gloves and walking stick.
“Lead the way.” Said Rafie, pulling on her gloves. Anni started off, leaning heavily on her own walking stick and on the arm of her grandson, Nen, a stout farmer whose expression was of honest concern.
“A horse went missing, it ran we think, Jesel went to go find it himself last night.” Anni choked on the words and Nen took over.
“We didn’t realise that he was gone until this morning.” Nen patted his ailing grandmother’s back.
“They went into the forest? The horse and Jesel?” Rafie’s senses were sharpening now in the cool morning air.
“Yes, the horse tracks lead away from the farm and to the edge of the wood, we tried to follow but I knew I would have no hope.” He gave a harsh shrug, his face going red behind his black beard.
“Not many people would.” Rafie said reassuringly. It was true, the forest was notoriously tricky and hostile to many. Rafie’s nature and her linage made her one of only a few who could traverse the mystical place alone.
They hadn’t gone far from Rafie’s cottage; Anni could only move slowly despite pushing herself.
“Head back to the farmhouse. Get what bandages and healing herbs you can ready. Jesel may simply be lost or he may be hurt. I will bring him to you as soon as I find him.”
Anni and her grandson nodded, Anni gripped his arm tighter, they had a job to do now, which would keep their mind occupied for a little while.
There were dark clouds looming off in the distance, it wouldn’t be long before rain came.
Rafie nodded in turn and lengthened her stride, making for the edge of the forest. She drew in a breath and slowly let it out, centering herself, opening her mind to nature. Once she broke into the line of trees, she stripped off her gloves and skimmed her hand over tree trunks and plants as she wound her way through the dense vegetation.
As with Lady Time, communication was not straight forward, there were images in her mind, snippets of life in the forest but she couldn’t ask about Jesel directly, but she could prod. She purposefully walked towards the farmhouse, where Jesel had come from. It was a good walk from her cottage to there, made shorter by cutting through the woods. Anni and Nen would have had to skirt all the way around the treeline, one mile atleast. Rafie hoped the trees would remember Jesel nearer there, or maybe the horse.
The forest stirred around her, confused at her questioning mind. She saw small glinting eyes in the shadows between trees. Animals would be a better source of information, but more difficult to seek for. She slowed her pace and crouched, then using her walking stick for balance, she opened her mind further. Her sense of self blurred, over many years she knew her limits but it always felt a little like looking at yourself in a crowd, and it did not come without risks.
There was a fox nearby, skittish and sleepy from a night spent hunting, but she saw it’s life essence as clear as a candle in the dark. However, there was also a darker presence, something lumbering, huge and poisonous. A twinge of pain caused Rafie to recoil. The presence was far away, somewhere deeper in the forest. Rafie took a moment to breathe, she was almost unmoored.
Gently she focused on the fox, prodding softly and asking about a man and a horse. The fox cowered back at the mention of the horse, she had seen the lumbering beast and ran away from it, afraid of the large hooves.
“Could you take me to where you saw the horse? Was a man following after it?” She showed her concern for Jesel.
The fox was scared but turned and slowly walk away, looking back over her shoulder.
Rafie stood, glad for the stick as her vision swam, but she was able to pull herself back. Once she was following, the fox picked up its pace. Now that they were connected, Rafie was able to settle back into herself and the million voices of plant and animal in the wood shrank away, leaving only the fox’s skittish presence in her mind.
They were heading quite deep into the forest. Rafie wondered what had caused the poor horse to flee this far.
Up ahead the fox leapt up on a fallen log, and sat down, tail twitching. Rafie walked up to the log and heard hooves pawing at the ground, she saw some movement further past the trees.
“Thank you.” She said and the fox leapt away, running back through the trees to its home, to rest.
Rafie climbed over the log and slowly approached the sound. In a small clearing with more fallen trees was a horse. Very large and dark, with furry white feet coated in mud. She was pawing at something near a freshly fallen log. Rafie did not want to approach it from behind, she had no desire to be kicked by a spooked horse. She circled slowly around until she was facing the side of the horse.
“Rafie-” A strained and weak voice rose up from the brush. Between the log and the horse lay a muddied man.
“Jesel-” She took a step forwards and stopped, the horse lifted its massive head and looked at Rafie. She looked wild.
“I’m here to help.” Rafie dropped her walking stick and held out both hands. The horse stamped down whinnying, the impact scattered more mud and leaves over Jesel.
“Acker, please, it’s okay.” The old man’s voice was weak, but the horse heard his reassuring voice and swung her head down, touching Jesel’s forehead.
“Are you injured?” Rafie asked as she approached, feeling more certain that Acker wouldn’t make a sudden move, but keeping one eye on the large animal.
“My leg is trapped, Acker is trying to free me but she can’t get underneath it. I hurts like anything.”
Jesel was on his back, right leg deep in the soft mud and under the fallen tree. Huge gouges marked where Acker had attepmted to help by getting her nose underneath.
“We should be able to do this together, eh girl?” She placed her hand softly on to the side of the horse’s muscular neck, attempting to calm the distressed creature. Images flickered, a stable, hay, a shadow, blue eyes and terror. Acker had seen the same creature Rafie felt earlier and fled. Rafie soothed over the memories, they would not help the poor horse now. Silently she conveyed her plan.
Her reins were still attached, so Rafie led Acker over to a branch sticking out from the log and tied her to it.
“Pull, Acker!” Rafie shouted before she rushed back over to Jesel and guided the log as best she could, forcing the trunk away without causing more damage.
Jesel was in immense pain, he gritted his teeth and balled his fists.
“Stop now girl, that’s enough!” And Acker halted, head shaking to try and get back to Jesel, the log moved. “Wait there, girl, I’ve got to move your dad now!” Rafie bent down to Jesel, wrapped her hands under his armpits and heaved.
Jesel’s colour was poor, and he groaned as Rafie pulled him free. She glanced down, his leg was a mess of blood and mud. Acker began to panic again, so Rafie rushed over to the horse, quickly undoing the bridle from the log, at which point it slammed down heavily into the mud. Acker immediately trotted over, nosing Jesel’s pained face. Rafie hopped over the log and knelt down before the poor farmer. He wasn’t bleeding anymore, but his leg looked broken.
“I can’t help here, we need to get you home. Think with my help you could get on Acker?”
Jesel couldn’t speak from pain but nodded and shifted gingerly.
“Acker,” Rafie gestured and the horse, with silent understanding, knelt and stayed still while Rafie gently manhandled the panting man onto her back. Jesel slumped over Acker’s neck as the horse stood.
“Can you stay on?” Again a nod. Rafie retrieved her stick. “Right let’s go.”
Rafie took the reins and led the group out of the forest. It took longer than Rafie would have liked, Jesel seemed to have lost all strength. When they emerged, Nen was standing with his hat in hand, worry had all but destroyed the felt cap from twisting it in his strong hands. The farmhouse stood a little way beyond him.
“Thank Meval!” He almost jumped with relief as he saw the group, Rafie could tell he’d been standing there, staring into the woods ever since he’d returned with his grandmother.
“We have to get him home. The leg’s broken. He’ll need a wash and some treatment, but especially water and food to get his strength back. He was trapped under a log all night.”
Nen nodded unquestioningly under Rafie’s authority and they started for the big house. when they got close, Nen lifted his grandfather as gently as he could. Jesel hadn’t said a word since he’d been placed atop Acker, Rafie guessed the blood returning to his leg had brought nothing but pain with it. Rafie turned and spotted a young man looking on worriedly in the garden.
“Young Harben, come and take Acker, she needs to be fed, watered and brushed. There’s a good lad.” Harben nodded, wide eyed, and took the reigns. Rrain began to fall, cold drops. “Hurry.” Rafie shot him a quick smile and followed Nen into the farmhouse, which was full of people.
“I’ll get the water.” A young woman with pale hair and a short dress sprung up and rushed out of the room.
“Place him here, Nen, we’ve made up a bed near the fire.” Said Anni. Made up on the hearth rug was a fluffy mattress, with lots of blankets at the ready.
“Let’s get these filthy clothes off first.” Rafie said. The girl had returned and placed the water over the fire.
His tunic was removed and rafie painstakingly cut his pants off with her knife, then Nen lowered him onto the bed. The wounds weren’t too bad and didn’t need to be stitched. With painful prodding and probing Rafie saw with relief that the break, though it would take a few weeks to heal, didn’t need to be set. Rafie worked her healing wordlessly while people bustled behind her, giving her space at Anni’s frantic insistance. Jesel drank water greedily after she was done. Finally, after Jesel was settled into the bed, with his leg bandaged and raised, some colour had returned to his face.
“I’m fine,” he said weakly, trying to push people away. Nobody paid any attention and they fussed over him incessantly, telling him how stupid he was for going into the forest alone, and how glad they were that he escaped with just a broken leg. It seemed the whole village had been roused when Anni had sent out the word that Jesel might be hurt. Jesel and Anni were pillars of the community and had a large family. Nobody knew more about farming within a hundred miles. Relatives and concerned villagers bustled, wanting to show their concern and to ask if they could help. They clapped Rafie on the back, saying how glad they were that their village had someone like her to keep them safe.
Rafie made sure that both Jesel and Acker were getting what they needed then slipped out of the back door. But Anni, who hadn’t left Jesel’s side since Rafie had finished treating him, touched her arm, appearing next to her.
“Thank you.” She was crying again, but with joy this time, a big smile on her face. “Thank you, Rafie.” She gave her a big hug and went back inside.
Rafie teared up, grateful she could bring such happiness and save someone again.
The rain was heavier now, a cold wind was ushering in the evening, as she cut through the forest she was protected from the worst of it.
She walked up the path to her cottage and remembered the egg. She raced inside.
The fire had died long ago, carefully she rebuilt it. Eventually she had enough light to see. The egg still sat in the nest, it was cracked, a green shoot sticking up through a small gap.
To Be Continued…
I had so much fun writing this part, the story keeps growing! Again we leave off and shall reconvene next Saturday. I hope to see you again.