Ceramic Dm (final judgement posted, New Champion announced!) - Page 58


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    And I'm off to work. I have to say I'm relieved to be finished. Good luck Berandor.
    SilverMoon's D&D meets Wild West Campaign. Check out the Story Hour Revenge, Renewal and the Promise of a New Year.

 

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    Ack! You're done?

    ETA: Just to make sure, I have *not* read it yet
    Last edited by Berandor; Monday, 23rd August, 2004 at 02:29 PM.
    P-Pricken.de

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    Gwen / One Hour Later, Three Days Ago / Cold Fish / Indian Summer / Disillusionment / Rememberance / For Lack of a Better Term / The Hunt / The Second Coming (AU-Serial)
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    I HAD to be done. I'll get home from work after the deadline has passed.
    In fact, I'm at work right now, Ao is posting this for me.
    SilverMoon's D&D meets Wild West Campaign. Check out the Story Hour Revenge, Renewal and the Promise of a New Year.

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    Quote Originally Posted by orchid blossom
    I HAD to be done. I'll get home from work after the deadline has passed.
    In fact, I'm at work right now, Ao is posting this for me.
    Now *that* is how to delegate. I mean, Orchid Blossom doesn't even need to type the words or click reply. Dictation. Good, old-fashioned dictation.

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    Just a fair warning before the text. I don't think I violated board rules; in fact, I tried very much not to. However, I may have courted the boundaries of PG-13. If you're squeamish (and I am), you might consider before reading the story (I had to read it ).

    Ceramic DM Final: Orchid Blossom vs. Berandor

    The Hunt

    Cedric stormed through the underbrush. Long, thorny fingers tore at him, catching, ripping his clothes. He paid them no heed. He held his arms in front of his face, and pushed on. A few feet further, the brush thinned, and the forest began. Cedric ran on, deeper and deeper into the woods, away from the village.

    Running up a hill, his right foot got caught in a root. Cedric fell into the dirt, and then slid down to the foot of the hill, where the tears found him. He'd tried to run away from them, but he hadn't run far enough. His body convulsed, his hands tore into the ground. His heart felt like it would burst out of his breast. Crying like a woman, Cedric rolled on his back, looked up into the trees, and then let out a howling scream.

    Why had he even asked her? Cedric had known Mara would deny him her favor. He had known for sure. Why had he even asked? The answer was simple: Because that was what his father would have done. Beregard the Black would have asked any woman he'd wanted to ask, and he wouldn't have accepted a refusal. But what woman would have refused Beregard the Black? No woman, of course. Beregard had been as handsome as he had been charming. Not like Cedric; not at all like Cedric.

    It's not that Cedric was ugly. He was simply ordinary. And Mara was everything but. She was the daughter of an island-man and the village midwife. When the islander's ship had been blown off course by a storm and landed in Bluewater's small harbor, they'd fallen in love, and he'd stayed. Mara had her father's dark skin and hair, and her mother's full physique. She was the most beautiful girl in Bluewater, and she knew it.

    Cedric still heard her dark laughter, and her friends' giggles as he'd asked her. Mara had looked at him, laughed at him. "I'd rather bed an elf," she'd said, and laughed even louder.

    "That bitch," he muttered. "She'll never speak to me like this again." When he returned from his Hunt, she would be the one wanting to his favor, and then he would refuse her. That would teach her. Cedric imagined slapping Mara, and his dirty lips twisted into a smile.

    In his heart, Cedric knew he'd never hurt her, but it felt good to imagine nonetheless. He took a deep breath. When he stood up, he felt weak, empty. His clothes were dirty and full of leaves and broken twigs. He brushed them off as good as possible.

    Imagining himself teaching Mara obedience, Cedric began his way back.

    ---

    "Allyria?" Cedric asked softly.

    The small hut in the woods lay silent. He could detect no sign of his friend. For a moment, he regretted coming here instead of going right home. Then Allyria jumped down from a tree and stood in front of him.

    "Cower in fear, human!" she shouted, pointing a small wand at him. She'd bound her hair back with a bandana, and she had even painted an elven war tattoo over her right eye. Cedric jumped back, partly in surprise and partly in mock fear. They laughed together.

    "I see you're playing elf again?" he asked, after they had embraced.

    "I'm not 'playing', Ced, I am preparing myself," she answered in the light-yet-serious tone that he loved. As long as he'd known her, Allyria had been preparing herself to venture into the Deepwood and find her father. Cedric could understand her; as a half-elf, she had nowhere to go in human lands. She'd be hunted and either killed or sold as a slave. Still, Allyria didn't want to leave while her mother was still alive. So she lived with her in the small hut at the edge of the forest, and hid when her mother entertained guests, which she rarely did.

    "And what have you been up to?" she asked, looking pointedly at his clothing. "Did you wrestle a boar?"

    Cedric's smile died on his lips, and his mood darkened again.

    "It was Mara," he said meekly. Allyria arched one of her fine brows. Everything about the half-elf was sharp and refined. Her nose was sharp enough to cut bread, he'd often joked, and of course she had pointed ears, just like an elf.

    "You wrestled Mara?" She tried to punch him on the shoulder in an effort to lighten him up, but he brushed her off.

    "What happened?" she asked, serious this time.

    Cedric sat down on an upturned tree. He massaged his knees as he answered.

    "I asked to carry her bag."

    "You...?" Allyria began, but then comprehension dawned on her. "For the Hunt." Cedric didn't answer, which was answer enough.

    "You can't still be planning to go through with it!"

    Cedric jumped up, matching her agitation with his own.

    "Why not?"

    "Ced, they want you to kill an elf! How can you even think about such a thing?" Allyria was furious, waving her arms around vividly, her obsidian wand glinting in the sunlight.

    "What do you want me to do? If I refuse, I'll never become a knight."

    Allyria calmed down instantly. She looked him deep in the eyes, her jade eyes meeting his hazel orbs.

    "You could come with me."

    He laughed, and her face became angry once again.

    "I'm serious, Ced"

    "Then you really have a woman's brain, Ally. If I came with you, the elves would kill me."

    "You can't know that. They didn't kill my mother, did they?"

    Cedric had had enough. First, Mara had insulted him in front of her friends, and now his best - his only friend was spouting nonsense instead of offering him solace. Anger flared inside of him, burning away all reason.

    "No they didn't," he answered, "they raped her."

    Allyria froze. For a breath's time, she was too shocked to react. Then, she struck him with her open palm. His face flew to the side, and he tasted blood on his lips, as she turned and stormed off.

    "Allyria, wait," he said. She went into the hut, and the door slammed close. Cedric held his cheek. It burned, as did his anger.

    "Stupid cow." Spitting on the ground, he headed home.

    ---

    As he left the woods, Cedric already regretted what he'd said. He hadn't wanted to hurt Allyria. But the half-elf always reacted strangely when he mentioned Mara, and Cedric knew she despised the Hunt.

    It was an old tradition: At his fifteenth birthday, every boy of Bluewater went out into the woods. He was only allowed basic tools and a hunting knife. In a month's time, the boy had to return home with a pair of elven ears, to show that he had become a man. Failure meant the boy would only be allowed to learn a craft - what Cedric called 'a woman's task' -, while a man would go on to learn warfare or sorcery.

    It was a dangerous task, and many refused to go through with it, but Cedric wanted to be a knight. Beregard the Black had been a knight. Maybe Cedric would be able to find out what had happened to his father once he, too, was a knight. Then he would prove Mardyck wrong, who always said his father had left because he hadn't wanted a son like him.

    Cedric reached Bluewater at sunset. In the dusk, the small village seemed almost like a painting. Small wooden huts and larger stone houses with reed roofs stood scattered on a grassy plain. The Green Sea lay directly beyond; seagulls shrieked in concert with waves breaking. But Cedric knew how it really was. Bluewater smelled of tar and stunk of fish. The villagers were filthy and small-minded. Most of them were content with spending their lives in this small backdrop at the end of the continent.

    As he rounded his mother's hut, he could hear her sitting on the porch with the Mayor, Donell Redsmile, an old man with bleeding gums. Instinctively, Cedric crouched in the shadows, listening to the conversation.

    "Well, why don't you simply forbid him to go?" Redsmile asked.

    "He's always wanted to become knight," his mother answered. "I can't take that away from him."

    Cedric held his breath. They were talking about him. For once, he wished he'd have Allyria's ears, so he could better understand what they were saying.

    "Well, then you should let him go."

    "What if he dies?" Cedric wanted to go to her, tell her that he wouldn't die. He would bring home two of the finest ears Bluewater had ever seen. But he stayed put.

    "Well, then he will die a man." A short pause followed, and then Redsmile continued, "You're holding something back. What are you really afraid of?"

    His mother didn't reply at first, but when she did, Cedric wished she'd stayed silent.

    "I'm afraid he'll simply fail."

    Cedric's ears were suddenly filled with crashing waves, and his stomach turned. Not even his mother believed in him. Was he such a weakling to her that he couldn't even kill an elf? Part of him wished he hadn't heard what his mother had said, part of him was glad that he had. Now he knew he really was alone. He had felt a little bad for wanting to leave his mother - not anymore.

    Cedric stepped out of his hiding place, and approached the two. His mother seemed a little perturbed, probably asking herself whether he'd heard it. Redsmile stood up and smiled at him, his bleeding gums in full display.

    "Well, if that isn't our latest Hunter," he said.

    "Mayor. Mother." Cedric nodded at them, and then he entered the hut and went straight to bed, disregarding the strange looks they gave him.

    ---

    Two days had passed since his fifteenth birthday. Cedric's legs hurt, and his back ached from the weight of his gear. His soft boots were wet, and his underwear chafed at his thighs. Walking through the Deepwood wasn't half as glorious as he had imagined.

    Even worse, the forest seemed to be alive. It wasn't just the unfamiliar sounds echoing through the trees. No, Cedric had the constant feeling of being watched. But no matter how much he squinted, how hard he looked, he couldn't see anyone.

    On top of it all, Cedric was lost. He had planned to follow the shallow Whispercreek until he came upon a suitable ambush site, but he had never even found the creek. For two days now, he was walking through the woods with no idea of where he was.

    He almost wanted to turn around. Two days in the woods, and he was already close to giving up. He cursed himself for his weakness, but then he thought of Mara's laughing face, and his mother's words, and Mardyck's taunts. He would prove them all wrong. His gear might pull at him, his legs might ache, but he would kill an elf and become a knight. And then he'd punish them for their insolence.

    Cedric had barely finished his thoughts when he glimpsed something through the leaves, like sunlight reflected by glass. Cedric dropped low, and hunched behind a tree. He thought about leaving his backpack, but his father's old tunic was in there among his gear, and he didn't want to risk losing it. Nor had he time to put it on. He'd planned to wear it when he returned triumphantly. And now, it seemed, he had found an elven settlement.

    Carefully watching his surroundings, he crept closer. It was an old castle, only a ruin now. Cedric hadn't even known there was a castle in the woods. Vines grew between the heavy stones, grass covered toppled walls, and webs bridged broken windows. A piece of glass still clung to a tower window, sunlight glinting on it. Calling him here.

    Cedric shrugged his shoulders. It wasn't an elven settlement, but at least it was a roof - or part of a roof - above his head for one night. He began to circle the ruin, looking for a way up that tower. He would have a better view from above, and might regain his bearings. Rounding a corner, he was startled to come face to face with another man.

    "Greetings, fellow traveler," the man said. He wore short breeches and a dark leather west. His hair was cropped short, and he had a dark complexion, almost like an island-man. Like Mara, Cedric thought. The man regarded him with a curious expression, and Cedric realized he hadn't answered.

    "Gree - greetings, Mylord." The stranger laughed.

    "I am no lord, my friend." He laid a finger on his lips.

    "Although, I do live in a castle, so maybe I am." He looked pensively into the air for a moment, and then he shook his head.

    "No. My castle is a ruin, and I am simply Raxos. And you are?"

    "My name is Cedric."

    "Well met, Cedric. What leads you to my castle?" Raxos seemed friendly, but the way he smiled and met his gaze made Cedric shiver.

    "I - I simply stumbled upon it. I didn't even know it was here. Can I - would you allow me to spent the night here?"

    Raxos ignored the question. He looked into Cedric's eyes as if he could see into his mind.

    "Nobody stumbles upon my castle, Cedric. You either look for it, or you don't find it." The man's smile broadened. His teeth were awfully long and sharp for a human.

    "Why did you come? Did you come for the treasure?" Raxos made a gesture towards the dark ruins, where Cedric saw the shimmer of gold.

    "Did you come for power?"

    The man stepped forward, standing a hand's breath away from Cedric, and whispered, "Or did you come for both?"

    Cedric stepped away from him. He drew his long hunting dagger. Raxos didn't seem to notice; he just continued smiling. His eyes glowed dark red for a moment.

    "Who - what are you?" Again, the man - or whatever it was - disregarded the question.

    "You don't have to decide right away, Cedric. Leave, and take your time to think about it. And when you come back, just tell me your decision." Raxos smile froze.

    "But don't come back if you don't want anything. Don't waste my time." He laughed again, but it was a cold, heartless laugh.

    "You don't want to waste my time."

    Cedric turned, and ran away.

    "Be seeing you," Raxos voice rang behind him.

    ---

    Cedric had run for maybe half an hour when the wood suddenly gave way to a small hut. Smoke drifted from the chimney, and he heard a soft feminine voice singing. An upturned tree lay close by. Cedric blinked. It was Allyria's hut, but how was this possible? He had walked two days before finding the castle, after all. Had he been so lost that he had walked in circles?

    He entered the hut and saw Allyria sitting at the table, cutting vegetables. Her voice broke off, and her head darted up when she noticed him. Her eyes grew wide for a moment, but she relaxed when she recognized him.

    "Ced," Allyria said.

    "Ally." Cedric remembered the last time they'd seen each other. He still owed her an apology. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you, and I know it was stupid what I said." She looked at him with her green eyes, and then nodded.

    "It's all right. Sit down, and help me." He did. Pointing her knife at his backpack, she said, "You're on your Hunt?"

    "I was," he answered. Allyria tensed.

    "Not what you think," he assured her. "I'm not going through with it."

    Allyria's face brightened at the news. He had come to the decision while he was running away from Raxos. He didn't want to die in the woods. But he also couldn't face Bluewater's ridicule.

    "I'm not going home, either."

    Her eyes seemed to twinkle, and she put the knife on the table. She held her hand out to his.

    "I'll try to get to Oldport, and then on a ship to the islands," he finished. Allyria's hand drew back for an instant, but then she gripped his own.

    "You could come with me," she said. "I will protect you from the elves."

    Her hand was warm to the touch, and her eyes shone with green fire. He gulped.

    "Maybe I will," he said, when he heard laughter coming from the door. Cedric turned around, and jumped to his feet when he saw Mardyck and his friends, Otter and Bull, standing in the doorway. The chair fell to the floor behind him.

    "The little boy has found himself an elf already," Mardyck said, still grinning. Despite his youth, it was already an almost toothless smile, many of his teeth having fallen out, the rest rotting along.

    "He seems to be more interested in her bosom than her ears, however." Otter cackled. Bull simply stared at him.

    "Close the door!" Cedric shouted, and rushed at Mardyck. The fourteen-year-old boy was too surprised to react. Cedric pushed his shoulder squarely into Mardyck's chest. He could hear the air being pressed out of his lungs, and Mardyck went down. The doorway was clear.

    Allyria had reacted quickly, and the door flew shut behind Cedric, who now found himself face to face with Otter and Bull. Mardyck was still lying on the ground, panting. Cedric couldn't win a fight against them. He had to get help. He feinted an attack, and then ran away.

    "Let him go," Mardyck wheezed, "and break down the door."

    ---

    Cedric burst through the bushes at the edge of the forest and stumbled onto the road. He knew he didn't have much time, but where should he turn to? Bluewater was about a mile away, down the road. Muggett's land began across the road, and his farm was only half as far as the village. But would Muggett help him?

    While he was still thinking about it and catching his breath, Cedric heard the sound of an approaching horse. He turned west, towards Oldport, and saw sunlight glinting off metal. A knight. Cedric thanked the gods and ran towards the approaching figure.

    "Help! Help me!" The knight galloped towards him. He was clad in polished armor, his dark shield bent in from a doubtlessly victorious battle. His horse was white as snow, and noble as a lord's. Cedric could not see the knight behind the closed visor of his helmet, but the horse regarded him friendly and patiently.

    "What is it, boy?" the knight demanded harshly. His voice echoed through his helmet, turning even a whisper into a bellow.

    "I - a friend of mine is in danger. You must help her!"

    "A woman in danger? Show me!"

    Cedric led the knight into the woods. When it went too slow for the man, he grabbed Cedric at the neck and pulled him up behind him. The horse didn't seem to mind, and they quickly reached the hut.

    They had come just in time, too. Bull was carrying a shrieking Allyria out of the hut. She threw herself around, her robe and hair flew forth and back, but she couldn't evade Bull's grip. The boy was already taller than most men and as strong as his namesake. Otter stood next to him and cackled, while Mardyck held his cheek. Cedric saw blood oozing between the fingers.

    "You will pay for this, bitch," he said.

    "Hold!" the knight shouted. Cedric slid off the horse, and watched as the knight slowly rode forward. "Leave that woman be."

    Bull released her, and Allyria dropped to the ground, crying. Mardyck stared at Cedric with open hatred. Otter spat on the ground. He looked more like a rat, Cedric thought.

    "Since when do knights care for elven wenches?" the sneak said. The knight stopped in his tracks, and turned around to Cedric.

    "Elf? She is an elf?"

    "Half-elf," Cedric admitted. The knight rode towards him and punched his mailed fist into Cedric's face. Cedric went down like a sack of his mother's bread as the world turned before his eyes and pain flooded his mind.

    He could hear the knight riding away from him, and then saying, "Carry on, then. But I will take her first." Mardyck laughed, and Otter cackled. Allyria screamed.

    "No!" Cedric shouted. "Please. Don't hurt her."

    "Be quiet, elf-boy, or I'll hit you for real," the knight bellowed back.

    Cedric's thoughts raced. He had to find a way to save Allyria. What was he to do? He couldn't fight them, and there was nothing he could offer...

    "Wait!" he shouted. He pushed himself up, disregarding the pain in his head, and continued, "If you promise not to hurt her, I will pay you."

    "What are you going to pay us with, fishmonger's son?" Otter asked, but the knight held up his hand.

    "Let the boy speak." Cedric knew he only had this chance.

    "I have found a treasure in the woods." Mardyck waved his hand dismissively, and laughed, but Cedric spoke on.

    "There is a ruin in the forest. I found it, and I found a treasure. I can lead you to it," he said. "Just leave Allyria alone."

    Mardyck and Otter almost burst into laughter, but held their tongues as the knight nodded. Bull regarded everything as stoically as he always did.

    "Very well," the knight said. "You show us the treasure, and we'll let her go. Until then, we'll keep her close." He pulled Allyria on his horse in front of him, and then motioned for Cedric.

    "Lead the way, boy. And don't waste my time."

    ---

    They reached the ruins even faster than before. His captors hadn't even begun to grow impatient when Cedric saw the light from the tower window. When he pointed it out, Mardyck and his friends quickened their steps, but Lorah, the knight, called them back. He had pulled off his helmet, and his coarse beard and wet hair gave him a wild look.

    "It might be a trap. The boy goes first." He didn't need to point out that he would kill Allyria when something went wrong. The half-elf had struggled at first, and quietly sobbed for the rest of the trip.

    Cedric entered the clearing. He was as afraid of Raxos as he was that Raxos wouldn't be here. He could hear the others following him, and a short look showed him that Allyria was surprised to see the ruins, too. Cedric hoped she would keep her mouth shut.

    He walked around the corner, his captors right behind him, but Raxos was nowhere to be seen. Cedric's mouth turned dry, and he looked into the darkness where the treasure had been. Nothing.

    "Well, boy? Where is it?" Lorah asked. Cedric hesitated, and Mardyck cursed.

    "I knew it was a lie. You are so going to regret lying to us," he said. Cedric took a step back. If he ran into the ruins, he might have a chance. But what about Allyria?

    "What leads you to my castle, Cedric?" Cedric looked around, but nobody else seemed to have heard Raxos' whisper.

    "Why did you bring your friends?" Lorah and Mardyck were arguing about whether to kill him right here or not, and Otter was studying the ruins.

    "I come for the treasure," Cedric whispered.

    "To your left."

    Cedric looked, and saw the glimmer of gold in the darkness.

    "There!" he shouted, pointing towards it. "There it is, just like I promised."

    Bull and Otter carefully entered the ruin. Mardyck guarded Cedric, but when the two returned with a chest full of gold and jewels, he seemed to forget about him. Even the knight turned away from them.

    "By the gods," he muttered under his breath. Bull put the chest down in the grass. It was almost the proverbial treasure chest: jewels, coins, even a human skull lay on top of all the riches. It was more than the whole village would earn in a hundred years, and it was a fortune even for a knight.

    Cedric walked towards Lorah and Allyria.

    "Let her go," he said. Lorah grabbed her arm and lifted her down, but did not let go.

    "No." He kicked Cedric, and the boy flew backward, stumbling over a rock and smashing his head on a toppled wall. He could hear Allyria screaming.

    Lorah swung down from his horse and pushed Allyria to the ground. She tried to get up again, but Bull grabbed her, and sat on her arms, pinning her down. Allyria threw her head to the sides.

    "Grab her ankles," Lorah ordered, and Mardyck and Otter obeyed.

    Allyria was crying now, kicking, screaming, but the knight didn't seem to care. He knelt between her legs and reached forward. Cedric closed his eyes, but he could hear fabric tearing and her screams intensify.

    "Silence!" Lorah spat, and Cedric heard metal striking skin. Allyria's screams turned into howls. Another hit, and she was whining.

    "That's better." Cedric heard as Lorah pulled off his gloves and threw them on the ground. Straps unfastened, and his breastplate went off. Buckles came loose, and...

    "Just the treasure?" Raxos whispered from nearby. Cedric shook his head, held his hands before his ears, but then Allyria screamed again.

    "No," he said. "I want the power, too." Laughter echoed through Cedric's mind, dark and evil laughter. It grew louder, and louder, and then he realized the laughter came from himself. Lorah was still kneeling between Allyria's legs, but they were all staring at him now.

    He felt lightning coursing through his veins, thunder forming in his fists. He saw Lorah's finger tremble, and he heard Mardyck's heart beat faster. His bones shifted, his skin tightened. When he stood up, he towered over the four humans. His hands twisted into claws. His tongue slid over sharp teeth. His lip curled into a snarl.

    "By the gods," Lorah said. The knight stood up and took a step backwards. Cedric laughed again.

    "No gods," he bellowed. "Only death." His jaws made speaking difficult, but he didn't want to talk to them. He wanted to slaughter them.

    Bull rushed forward and hit him in the face. His punch had killed horses, but Cedric barely felt the fist connect. He caught the next punch in his grip, and crushed Bull's hand like a ripe peach, red sap running between his claws. Bull howled. Cedric pulled him close, grabbed his head, and twisted. The neck splintered like a twig. Bull toppled over. Mardyck soiled his pants. Otter cackled madly. Lorah had frozen where he stood, half undressed.

    Suddenly, Raxos was there. The man appeared out of the ruins. While the others watched, he calmly walked up to the monster that Cedric had become.

    "Can you feel the power? Doesn't it feel wonderful?" He let his hand run over the charred skin. "In time, you will learn to change at will, and maybe even control it. For now, have fun with these weaklings." He turned around, and walked into the woods. Shortly before he disappeared, he looked back once more.

    "Be seeing you."

    Cedric stepped over the dead body and snarled again. Slaver was running down his chin. He looked at Allyria; she held her hands over her exposed breasts and regarded him with wide eyes. He saw her torn dress, he smelled her fear, and it excited him. But he would kill the others first. He wanted to taste their blood. Then he would have time to take care of her.

    And then the screaming began for real.

    ---

    Rada was worried about her son. Cedric had only left Bluewater three days ago, but he was not a good tracker. He would get lost in the forest, and starve, she told herself. Which might still be better than if he simply failed. She knew Cedric wanted nothing more than to become a knight, and she feared for him should he fail. He had a dangerous temper, just like his father had, and if it broke through - Rada didn't want to think about that.

    She was also worried because three other boys from the village had gone missing. These three were notorious troublemakers, but it was still unlike them to stay away over night. Even the Mad Nan seemed to sense something. The old woman lived alone in a hut at the edge of the forest, but this morning she'd been distraught and confused when she came to town. She'd had cried, but she didn't want to talk about it. Something was very much amiss.

    Rada admonished herself to stop worrying. If she spent a full month wondering about Cedric's well-being, she would be crazy by the time he returned - if he returned. She'd turned her thoughts to the sword she planned to buy for Cedric when Darryn, the miller's boy, came rushing towards her.

    "He's coming home!" he shouted. A big smile lay on his lips. "He's coming home already!"

    "Who?" Rada asked, but then she knew. Cedric. Cedric was coming home. She left her stall and ran past the boy. Even as she ran down the road leading out of Bluewater, her worries returned. Something had happened. Nobody had ever finished the Hunt in three days. Cedric must have already given up, after three days. He would never get a foot on the ground again; he would be the laughingstock of the whole village.

    As she reached the mill, a throng of bystanders had already assembled. So much for trying to keep it low, she thought. He would feel their ridicule almost immediately. And truly, most of the people were already tossing jokes back and forth, even before her son was there. They grew quiet when they noticed her, though, and Rada was thankful for that.

    Then she saw him. Cedric came walking along the road at a leisurely pace. He didn't seem hesitant or sad. Rada was Somewhat confused by her son's behavior. It seemed he carried his failure well. Then she recognized his clothes.

    Cedric was wearing his father's old tunic, the only thing Beregard had left him. And there was no way he would wear it if he hadn't completed the Hunt. Could it be?

    "He did it," she said, quietly at first, then louder. "He did it. My son is a man now. And he did it in a mere three days!" Rada laughed. Her son would become a knight. The whole world was open to him.

    When he was a few feet away from the village borders, Cedric stopped for a moment, and looked at the assembly. He smirked, and as the sun set behind him, he really looked like a hero. Then, he flung his backpack forward. It landed with the tinkle of many coins, and a ruby rolled out of the sack, glinting in the evening sun. The assembly grew silent except for a few guffaws from a young maiden.

    Cedric took the small bag from his belt and undid its strings. He pulled out two pointed ears, and held them high. The whole assembly broke into cheers and applause, and two of the men grabbed him and carried him on his shoulders. The two had been among the jokers shortly before, Rada noticed.

    Cedric laughed, but after a few steps he bade to be let down again. He walked towards Rada and flung her into his arms.

    "Mother," he said. "I did it." Rada laughed with him.

    "As a reward," she told him, "I will bake you the best pie you've ever eaten."

    Cedric looked past her, and then he walked past her, as well. Rada turned around and saw Mara, the midwife Jill's daughter, standing close to him. She held a small leather bag in her hand.

    "I'm sorry," Mara said. "I was stupid. Will you still accept my favor?"

    Cedric smiled, and took her by the shoulder.

    "Pie sounds good, mother." He seemed friendly, but the way he smiled and met her gaze made Rada shiver. "However, I had other rewards in mind. We'll talk later."

    In the setting sun, Rada thought his eyes glowed red for a moment. Cedric turned, and led Mara away.

    The End
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    Disclaimer 1: Above all, I am a very silly man. So if a statement of mine can be construed as joke - especially if it's not funny - it likely is.
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