Jack's Tale

Away from the City and imprisoned behind rings of mines, deprived of resources, settlements battle famine, natural disasters and despair. The companions of Ellen’s Tale and The Storyteller’s Tale have moved south to settle in Belacot and to open new trade routes. This land to the west and north of the City has been untouched by any form of law and order for over 50 years and soon our companions face new conflict and danger. As they begin to liberate mined settlements they discover some of the survivors of the Great Wars live by violence banding together to exist by means of terror and murder.  Undermanned and lacking the resources of the City Bix’s Comrade is almost overwhelmed. Disasters threaten the close knit comrades and relationships begin to founder under the stresses of war. 

~ Chapter One ~

I heard he had run out of luck.  Well that happens, even to the best but somehow I never, none of us I think, thought it would happen to him; we thought him invincible.  The malevolent devils this side of hell wanted a laugh I guess, life boring by the pits.  Shouldn't have happened, of course, he was retired out of the fighting, if you’re thinking of the mine clearing no one dies of those injuries anymore, we are all too careful.  This could have happened because he had been away from the battlefields too long, even the kind of luck he had a comrade needs well-honed reflexes and trained muscles.  Probably he’d lost his edge.  Damned shame though, he was a good Feral and we'll need everyone for this round of fighting.  Can't afford to lose the best like that.  How are his comrades dealing with it?  Stupid question, forget I asked.
I'm not sure how I can help really but if you can get up here in the next week I'll be happy to try, in any way.  Have to get back to the City after that.  I’ll be your end of the trail later, next month, but you may not wish to conduct the interview around his comrades so soon after the event.
How is she managing the loss?  Erin says she must be the worst affected but then Erin is all woman so maybe that is her world view as they say.  Me, I think it will be comrades; they’ve been by his side for many years through so much together.  We don't show hurt, that's not a Feral way; could be it's not a soldier's way but the hurt goes down deep into the guts of us.
I'm sorry if this letter is not so well written I don't often have need of writing, apart from reports of course.  There are a great deal of those these days as you can imagine with all the troop mobilisations and re-arming, organising rations and equipment.  The City authorities are tail-spinning in overreactions; just as well we have the ordering of things out here.  How are the settlers there at Belacot taking the news?  They must feel very much in the thick of the chaos with the camping right there by their land.
Erin sends her best wishes and says if there is anything she can do to help at this time not to bother with niceties just shout and she'll come.  Reckons she doesn't need an escort, will travel down the forest walk.  I think she'd be safe enough, so I agree with her; just send word if you need help.


Karina Morgan’s Journal

I had picked this one piece of paper at random from the box that Clemens had indicated – read it and showed it to him.
‘Who ran out of luck?  There’s nothing to show.  Do you know who this Gair person is talking about?’  I was already regretting I had ever put forward this stupid idea.  The overflowing box of papers on the tidy desk seemed to overwhelm, drain the life force from me.
‘Gair?  He is or was a Feral Commander of some note.  He is mentioned often in the Feral accounts of this time.  Respected and honoured many times.  As to whom he is talking about, well that is something maybe you can discover as you go through these papers.’
‘Other references in other papers, it is like a puzzle which you have to put together.’  He stared at me and frowned.  ‘Would it better maybe if this task was given to someone else to undertake?’
Oh the temptation was there, who was I trying to fool?  I was no Archivist but it seemed the only way to find out what had happened to Maia.  To maybe unearthing what it was that had led her to stray away from the safe paths and vanish.  I shook my head at my new boss.  Picked up the box, with some difficulty, bade him a civil enough goodbye and slowly made my way back to my room.
Staring later at the still unpacked box I felt despondent and very tired.

I'm not sure I've made the right decision saying I wanted to finish Maia's work.  For a start I can't stand that Clemens they've put in charge of me, he's taken over Ris' position; so smugly self-satisfied and pompous. Urgh, he and I will clash I'm sure. It's obvious he doesn't approve of the powers-that-be allowing me to sully his precious Archives.  I wanted to throw the papers at him he irritated me so much.
When I was summoned to his office this morning to be presented with this large box of assorted papers and a couple of notebooks all I could do was stare at them then at Clemens.  What, I asked, were these and what was I supposed to do with them?  He smiled, oh so politely, informing me these were copies of all the papers that the Archives possessed that were relevant to Ellen and her companions.  Most Maia had researched for her work but some were newer, sent up from Belacot for safe-keeping.  They were for my task.  My task!  It's obvious he thinks I will fail.  I'll show him.  Dreadful man.
I had to go back to that man, ask what I had to do to make any sense of the pile of papers he had handed me.  How could I possibly turn these scraps into a chronicle for all that's good?
He was silent for so long I thought he was ignoring me.  That irritated me and I began to tell him not to be so rude when he asked if I was serious about undertaking the work.  Did I realise what was involved?  Really!  I told him I wouldn't have asked for his help if I wasn't serious.  I hope I implied he was the last person I would have wished to ask for assistance however, as they say in the Hallowed Hall, needs must.  Not diplomatic I grant but I was in despair not knowing how to even start.  His eyebrows went clear to his hairline at the tone of my words but he never changed his demeanour.  Cold.
He started to explain about sorting, taking notes, referencing, cross-referencing and collating.  My head buzzed with it all.  With a small tsk tsk he began to write notes for me, written in the neatest handwriting I ever did see.  He is a very neat man I admit.  Everything about him is so stationary, as if painted on him.  From his body movements and facial expressions to his clothes.  Never moving from rightful place.  I also acknowledge his notes make sense and now I see the path ahead.  I'm beginning to suspect this Archival business is a tedious, boring path.  I vowed to the missing Maia I would do this and I don't renege on my vows.
I'm sitting here wondering how much of my life this will take; already, after a few days, I am missing my craft.  Then I remember Clemens' eyebrows and I laugh.  He has a beautiful head, I wonder if I could reproduce it.  Would it be possible to portray such a still life form, his character and neatness?  My art is usually wilder.  Clemens is so contained; I have visions of the completed work enclosed within a box.  The thought pleases me.

~ Chapter Two ~

Ellen Welfitt’s letters

Dear Susanna

I hope you received that ridiculous pigeon note Ria sent; she is an impossible girl sometimes.  Anyway, if you did receive the note, you will know she had three beautiful babies.  I am writing to fill in the details for you; she says details do not matter but she smiled as she said the words and only shrugged when I told her of this letter saying whatever I wished.  I know our Ria by now; she does want you to know, she will never admit to it.
Anyway to the point, oh Susanna they are such beautiful children.  Long and lean, longer than mine were, I suppose that is Jack’s influence.  They are dark, not as Ria but more a dusky tan, and with such a soft cloud of dark hair.  Everyone one loves them and, like mine, the comrades steal them all the time.  Ria does not mind, says they will come back when they are hungry.
Ria’s plans did not go exactly as she had hoped and Bix takes the blame for delaying us at Blaisemill.  Ria just smiles and refrains from comment; it is hard to recognise her now, she is such a diplomat! We were still travelling the trail when the pains began.  She kept them to herself for a while until she accepted she would never reach Belacot before the birth, then she called a halt.  She concealed the pain well or maybe she did not feel it as I had, apologised to Bix, explained how long she thought she might have before the birth and waited while new plans were discussed.  We made for Bahurst, Gerik and Kevin being sent ahead as runners to prepare.
I stayed with Ria in case Bahurst was not reached in time.  Remembering the speed my kits came, taking everyone by surprise, we thought maybe Ria’s birthing would proceed in a similar way.  Jack ignored her protests and carried her; grinning and joking at her complaints and grumbles, but I could see she was grateful.  Walking over uneven ground is hard if contractions grip you.
We did make it in time but only by moments.  Jack had time to lower her onto the bracken that had been collected then I was pushing him out of the way.  The first two kits came with ease and speed and you know, Susanna, she had no need of me or anyone really then, I stood as helper only.  Ria remained in complete control; telling, well ordering, us all what to do. But your instructions stood me in good stead for I was able to react to her orders quickly and without fuss.  I fear she would have snapped at me if I had fumbled.  I looked up once and caught Jack’s smile as he listened to her.  She is Ria, which is all one can say.  Magnificent in her sharpness.
Then . . . oh dear, all went so wrong.  At first I did not understand.  Her pain became more than she could keep to herself, Jack was there in an instant demanding, questioning.  The wrong way, she said; the baby was laying wrong, then she screamed.  It was terrible.  Ria cried out they would both die.  A moment that stood still.  Then Jack was cleaning his hands and, as if Ria was a sheep or some other animal at Blaisemill, he put his hand inside her and turned the kit.  A little girl, late behind her two brothers but screaming well her discontent.  I had no time for her, Jack and I attended to Ria.  Bix took the girl, washing and wrapping her against the air.   He and Matt held the three until we were sure of Ria.  Without the pain she was back to issuing instructions in gasps of exhaustion, never ceasing.  Never relaxing until everything that needed doing had been done, all traces cleaned up.  No wildlife is having anything to do with me or mine, she declared as she watched the correct disposal of everything, would have dictated the correct care of her kits if Jack had not hushed her with a smile.
Susanna, to see her as she handed the three kits to Jack; as if they were a precious treasure which of course they are, and Jack’s face as he received them, when he cradled them; I wish you had seen. Such a beam of a smile, so unusual for Jack.
My kits fight to hold them but the men are always there so they have a hard job.  Louisa cannot believe that once she was so small and Kennet just keeps spreading out their fingers and measuring them against his.  They are strong and healthy, Susanna; tell John so.  Say also that Ria is truly happy, I have never seen her so relaxed and peaceful.  She seems content to idle away each day and hardly a cross word from her.  Do tell everyone who wants to know that she is happy and content and her babies are beautiful.  They have no names yet, Ria says it’s too soon to tell what they are like, that the name must match the child but, rest assured, I will write and tell you the minute she decides.  Ah, I know you will love them too when you meet them.
The rest of us are, as you may have gathered, all well and content with our lives.  A happy Ria certainly makes happy company!  Matt is heading back your way today so I will finish here and send this with him.  We will be at Belacot before you read any of the letter but we will be living there for many seasons.  I will write more when we are settled.
I miss you already, my first and dearest friend, but you shall see, Ria and I, although ill-matched, will get on very well with each other in time; I will have someone with sense in abundance to aid me as you once did.  I am sure Ria will be an admirable replacement although maybe not as sympathetic!  I am grown much and have the fortitude now to smile at her and make her smile back.  Never fear, you and I will meet again soon I am sure.

With much love and friendship


All is well.  The little company open up new trading routes, demining as they go.  Hope that security is at last coming to the survivors.  However, bandits preying on the unprotested settelments have banded together into large, ravaging hordes, killing all.  The Ferals are back at war again. 

Ellen Wellfit’s Journal

All has descended into hell and I fear we will be lost there.  Bix returned today and oh how I, we, had longed for this day. Ria and I are making plans. Ria was excitedly rehearsing the news of her unborn kits although I thought Jack would realize the minute he set his eyes upon her.  She wondered if she could hide it all the more to surprise him.
‘Although I did tell him before he left we would have kits in a few months’ she reminded me with a smile and a laugh.
We knew of their return by the dust, Kennet was first to see.  He raced back from Bathorpe to warn us, his grin split his cheeks and he picked me up by my waist to whirl me around.
It was also Kennet who noticed the mood of the returning Comrade then he looked at me in concern and Ria standing on her toes to endeavour to view the comrades more closely shaking her head.  She whispered
‘Something is wrong.  So wrong.  See how they march.  Oh Ellen.’
My heart seemed to die within me.  Please let Bix be alright was the only thought in my mind at that moment.
So selfish of me but that is the truth.  Kennet so much a Feral now whisked all the kits away from our cottage and hid them in Belacot.  He knew not what the disaster only that there was one.  Until we knew, best the young ones were safe away.
I saw Bix immediately and began to run toward him but Kennet put his hand on my arm and stopped me.  His eyes had already seen the look of stony despair on his Bixfar’s face.  I took but a moment more to understand who was missing.
Ria stopped searching the company; it was clear to all Jack was not among them.  All the colour in her face fled and her expression hardened.  Her eyes, cold like stone, watched Bix as he came toward her.  I felt the weight of his heart from where I stood.
‘Where’s Jack?’  A whisper.  Bix gestured with his hands but didn’t speak.  Ria scowled then as she had not for so many seasons, she repeated her words.
‘He’s lost.’  Such small words, they made no sense.  How could Jack be lost?  Was he dead, was he missing?  Bix didn’t know.  The story came slowly.  There had been a battle and after all was over Jack was gone.  They had searched for days but nothing; no Jack, no body.  His voice stopped on an intake of air and he held a hand out to Ria.  A gesture asking forgiveness, understanding.  She did not understand.
‘Is he dead?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘If he is dead where is his body?’  Ria was not listening to him.  I moved forward to comfort her but suddenly Ria went for Bix.  Raking her nails down his face and then beating him with her fists.
‘Ferals don’t leave anyone behind.  You told me over and over.  You never leave a man behind.  Where is he?  How could you leave him?  He’s your man.  He’s your man.’
Screaming the words at Bix and he, standing motionless, let her hit him, never flinched as she accused him, her face only inches away. That her words tore into a raw wound was obvious to all of us.  Bix had lost part of himself with Jack.
Ria wept then and her fists’ beat grew weaker.  Head bowed she repeated her accusations in a diminishing voice.  Suddenly all movement ceased and looking up searchingly she opened her fists, slid her palms up either side of his face and held him.
‘Oh Bix, how will you and I go along without our Jack?  How have you borne it all these days?  He is your other half.  He is mine.  How do we live without him?’
Then Bix pressed her in his arms so tightly I thought he would break her ribs.  I knew they both wept and Bix needed to hold her tightly for his comfort as well as hers.  Ria spoke truly; they had both lost a part of themselves.

Ria's grief overwhelmed, extravagantly tearing and ripping, bringing her to her knees clutching head, refusing all hands that would help.  Moaning and hitting at the air with tight fists, as if to drive something away.  I tried, we all tried, to hold her close, to comfort; these gestures of pity drove her to more violence and rage. Wrenching herself free and scrambling to her feet, moving away from us then falling to her knees again, the force of weeping too much for vision.
Ria wept so for hours, leaning finally against the cottage walls, knees drawn up as if cradling her unborn.  Once or twice when the storms gentled her hands would stroke her belly.  Oh how she tried to collect calmness but always found it was just beyond her grasp.
‘She’ll damage the children’ Anya urged.  ‘Can't we give her any sedative?  Bix don’t you have anything?’  Ria heard and screamed at poor Anya that she was trying to kill Jack's babies. Anya who only wished to help.
I caught at Bix's arm, when it seemed Ria would cease only when she died of exhaustion.
‘Help her Bix.  It is her mind that is going.  She's listening to the voice in her head, see how she beats at it, how she covers her ears, her mother is back.  She will lose her mind if we don't stop it.’
Bix, his face as grey as the City walls, gestured at me helplessly, his hands apart; how could he help Ria?  He had been the cause of this grief.  He had lost Jack.  He had been the one, she wouldn't want him.
I told him ‘Just hold her, as Jack would; rock her, kiss her. We have watched Jack often enough that you can do that.’
So Bix knelt by her and, dodging the blows, held her tightly, pinning her arms by her sides, pulling her to him.  He kissed Ria’s tears and crooned softly as Jack used to.  Told her over and over she was bold and brave, told her to hush now, she would be ill, she would make the unborn ill.  Told her not to listen to her mother's voice.  Ria stopped crying to listen to the soft words better lying in his arms staring up at his face.
‘She's laughing, reminding me of her words, reminding me she warned me all those years ago Jack would leave.’ Ria whispered.  ‘She'll take me and the kits down with her; don't let her take me.  Make her stop, make her stop.’
Ria's hands struggled to free themselves, one managed and she tried to beat at her head again.  Bix took Ria’s hand in his; talking, talking all the time.  I remembered the hours Jack had done so. Slowly Ria began to listen.  Between the sobbing she was beginning to listen.  Turning her face inwards burrowing close to his chest, my Bix holding her closer, kissed her hair, her neck, telling her she was the best, the bravest.  When he called her name and she would not look up he moved her so that she did. Ria just shook her head in a gesture of defeat saying she couldn't fight without Jack.
‘You have Jack always. He's here in your head.’ Bix smoothed back her hair, so closely resembling Jack's movements I think for a second she thought it was Jack for her hand started to stray upwards to capture Bix's hand and then dropped again.  ‘You have him here, in your heart.’  My man continued without falter as he laid his hand on her breast.  ‘And you have a part of him here.’  His hand rested on her belly.  ‘You have him.’
Ria tried to smile and failed.  Her eyes filled, spilt over again, but the outpouring lessened.  Bix endlessly rocking her, kissing her, wiping the tears away. He continued telling her how brave, how wonderful she was; his voice ragged in the continuation of words, hypnotizing her with the gentleness, a lullaby.  Like so Jack had always soothed her, on and on.

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