38: Trial by FireMature

“Damnit, Keon!” She preferred a more eloquent approach to insult, but she had met her wit’s end with the young man.

As she approached the site where he had fallen, she realized that there was no way to reach him at this point save by walking directly through the flames.  There has to be a way.

She thought she might be able to use one of the carpets she had stashed in her bag to act as a buffer between herself and the searing heat, or perhaps to walk over the fire itself.  As she sifted through the various items in the sack, her eyes lit upon her new book.  The words she had read earlier that day echoed through her memory.  Only a true hero or heroine may find the whistle and realize its potential.  

Yes, she mocked her own consideration.  Yes, it would be nice to have a giant bird at my beck and call right about now.  But I don’t have the shimmering whistle, so I’ll just have to take a more sensible approach, now won’t I?  She continued to sift through the valuables, finally managing to remove a large carpet woven in rich color.  She spread it out on the ground to get a feel for its size and looked up to compare it to the width of the flames.  She panicked.  She could barely see Keon now, and the carpet was no longer a viable option with the blazing wall climbing ever higher and spreading ever wider.  He’s burning to death.  She allowed poisonous thoughts to seep through the cracks in her determination.  He’ll never wake up.

As her mind began to spiral, she brushed her fingers through her hair in a subconscious effort to dispel some of the frenzy.  The black feather she had tied into her tresses that morning fell to the ground in front of her, and its shimmer caught her attention.  A black feather that shimmers….

She plucked the feather up without hesitation and looked it over.  Besides glistening purple and green and being fairly large, it seemed nothing but ordinary.  But then Oliana held it at such an angle that brought the hollowness at the very base of the quill below the barbs to her attention.  She shook her head, feeling silly for the attempt she was about to make, but her desperation left her without choice.  She placed her lips around the end of the quill and blew into its hollow.  To her surprise, rather loud, high-pitched oscillations began emanating from the whistle.  She blew to the end of her breath and paused, listening for a sign that she was not simply wasting time.

Lengthy seconds passed before she heard a sudden, eerie cry pierce through the night.  It sent ice down her veins, and it was then that she remembered the children’s book having said that the Boobrie was a malevolent creature.  It had better be wrong about that, she hoped as she took a deep breath.

Hardly a moment after she caught movement in the sky did the creature present itself before her.  It was not a giant bird, but rather a winged ebony horse.  Its baroque body, elegant wavy mane, and lightly tufted feet accentuated the magnificence of its wings, which were adorned with plumage identical to that which Oliana held in her grasp.  Its deep, black, strangely peaceful gaze reflected the ruddy flames.  Oliana was thunderstruck.

Without warning, the mare reared back on its legs as it flapped its massive wings in the direction of the flames, extinguishing those surrounding Keon effortlessly.  

Snapping out of her amazement, Oliana yelled for her companion and dashed to his side.  “Keon!”  She shook him, but he was yet unconscious.  Removing his hood, she could see that his head was quite swollen from the blow it had suffered, and he bore at least one nasty burn on his hand and arm.  “We need to get you back,” she said aloud.

Oliana could feel the Boobrie’s breath at her back and drug Keon’s body to the horse’s side.  Heaving as she lifted his body as best she could, she painstakingly managed to drape and balance him over the horse’s flanks.  “He’s a heavy one, isn’t he?” she asked the horse, which shook its head seemingly in response, pawing the ground in anticipation of flight.  

Oliana went back to pick up her own bag as well as Keon’s.  She could hear other people now on the other side of the fire, and she knew she had to flee quickly if she were to get out uncaught.  Despite the heaviness of the two sacks, she decided she would have to drape them over her shoulder after mounting the horse.  Holding the mare gently under its jaw, she directed it over to a nearby bench which she used as a mounting block.  

Once she was satisfactorily seated in front of Keon, she held tight to his belt in an effort to keep him secure.  She quickly realized that, considering that the wings sprang from nearby the horse’s withers, Keon would have to stay situated by its flanks.  This meant that, if she wanted to make sure he would not fall off, she would have to ride backwards.  She switched her legs around and did her best to secure herself, the passenger, and the merchandise.

What am I doing? she briefly asked herself before the Boobrie took off at a gallop that began on the ground and progressed seamlessly to the sky with the powerful rotation of its wings.

She was so focused on keeping Keon from slipping off that she didn’t notice the bite of the chilly wind, let alone the fact that she was not directing the horse where to take her through the black night.  It would have taken some effort on her part to figure out where exactly the bandit camp was from such a dizzying aerial view, at any rate.  But she just knew that the horse somehow understood where to take them.

It turned out that flying down the mountain took nowhere near as much time as trekking up it, and Oliana was surprised and relieved at how swiftly the mare had begun its descent to solid ground.  As soon as the horse’s hooves had kissed the floor of pine needles, Oliana turned to her side and saw the glow of the campfire; she dismounted and let out a cry for help, only to realize that her body had become spectacularly weak and freezing on the way over.  She fell to her knees in a mad fit of shivers as several Alfar walked over to meet her, a concerned Orlo leading the charge.

The End

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