By Jeff Baker
Author’s Note: This is a continuation of a longer story I started for Monday Flash Fics. with “The Forest,”(posted November 21, 2016) and continued with “The Keeper of the Owl,” (posted July 24, 2017.) From the beginning, this story wanted to get bigger. The picture made me think up the latest installment.
The archer pulled back the string and let the arrow fly towards the tree, where it hit the target with a “plunk!”
“There’s nothing unusual about strangers in the forest,” he said. “Just because we stay in one place, doesn’t mean everyone else does.”
“I took them to see the Caretaker in the Great Tree,” Ezidiah said from his seat in the branch above Daron.
“We saw,” Daron said, as he pulled out another arrow from his quiver. “We were watching.”
Ezidiah wasn’t surprised. He hadn’t seen them but that didn’t mean that the archers hadn’t been there. That was one reason he looked up to Daron, ten years his senior. Daron was muscular while Ezidiah was skinny. Tall where Ezidiah was short. And wonderfully older. Daron had taken off his tunic that matched the trees and was standing on the branch wearing a deep green pair of short pants with a belt holding his dagger and slingshot. Awfully casual for one of the Caretaker’s Archers but then Daron wasn’t working at the moment.
But he was firing off arrows, one after the other, from the quiver he’d hung on the side of the tree.
“The strangers went up the Great Tree and right into the Place of Owls to talk with the Caretaker.” Ezidiah said.
“Did you hear what they talked about?” Daron asked, giving most of his attention to the aiming of the next arrow.
“No,” Ezidiah said. “The Caretaker didn’t tell me when he talked to me. He just said…”
“Wait…the Caretaker talked to you?” Daron didn’t act surprised too often but this was one of those times. He lowered the bow to his side and replaced the arrow into his quiver. “When was this? What did he say?”
Ezidiah suppressed a smile. “I was told to go into the chamber, you know, the one with the carved wooden owl in it.” Ezidiah wryly noticed Daron’s mouth hanging open. “Well, all the Caretaker asked me was what the strangers had said to me and which direction they’d come from. Oh, and one of the strangers said he was Andiak of the Oaiod. He probably told the Caretaker that too.”
Daron pulled himself up and sat on the branch next to Ezidiah.
“What exactly did the Caretaker say? And what did you tell him?” Daron asked.
“All about my meeting the strangers and taking them to the Great Tree,” Ezadiah said. “I thought you’d seen all that.”
“Yes, but you actually talked with them,” Daron said. “And with the Caretaker.”
Ezidiah swung his feet lazily beneath him. It was fun being taken seriously by someone like Daron for once.
“Daron, I don’t think the strangers had ever been in a forest before.”
“What makes you say that?” Daron asked.
“They tripped over roots and they didn’t know much about climbing trees,” Ezidiah said. “Then they had trouble climbing up the Great Tree and that one’s got handholds.”
Darron nodded. The most secure tree in the Forest, yet people were expected to climb into it.
“Ezidiah, you saw things about the strangers some of us missed. That’s probably why the Caretaker wanted to talk to you. Tell me everything that happened. From the moment you first saw the strangers.”