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3
Cloak-Ties

A Mannish tale from the Druadan Forest


~~~

Deep in the Druadan Forest, at the edge of a clearing, lived a husband and wife. Ghuran was the name of the woman, and the man was called Banur.

Being but recently joined, they had as yet no children. They spent their days at work in the forest, gathering and hunting and fishing, and in the clearing, tending their garden. Sometimes they traveled a little way to visit friends or kin, and they received again guests in return.

Banur had to visit a metalworker who lived some days’ walk distant, while Ghuran must needs remain behind. He filled his pack with supplies and dressed in sturdy leather garb. He carried also Ghuran’s wedding gift to him, a cloak of squirrel and rabbit skins, with cloak-ties carved from the very watch-stone that now stood beside their door.

He kissed Ghuran and held her tightly, then set off walking across through the forest. In three days, he reached the home of the smith his friend. There the smith saw to the mending of his tools, while Banur helped the smith’s wife and children with chores and hunting. He stayed a few nights, then set out one morning for home.

On the evening of the first day, as the air turned cool, he threw the skin cloak about his shoulders. Just as he began to look for a place to spend the night, a starving wolf barred his way, snarling and desperate. He tried to beat back the wolf with his stout walking stick. The blows of the wood staff did not drive away the wolf. Banur tore the bottom-most tie from his cloak. He whispered, "As the whole, so the part," and flung it into the wolf’s open mouth.

The wolf choked and fell to the ground, far more undone than would be possible with a simple stone toggle from a cloak-tie. Banur hastened away. He walked more hours than he had intended, wanting to leave behind the wolf’s lands. He spent the night in a tree, dozing warily.

The next day, he continued on. After the sun had set, he again cast about for a resting place. Once more, he climbed a tree, and slept in the crotch of the branches.

Some time before dawn, he awoke to the sounds of some creatures scrabbling about beneath the tree. Three orcs had found their way into the forest from the wild lands across the River. They knew he was in the tree, and began to climb it in search of him. Hastily, he seized his staff and dropped to the ground. He set his back against a tree trunk, and swung the heavy wood against the first to attack. This time, the staff struck true, and the orc fell stunned to the earth.

When the second orc attacked, it too was felled by a blow from the staff to its head. However, the wood cracked and splintered on its skull, leaving Banur with a short, broken limb. The third orc ignored its stunned fellows, and came in to attack. Banur ripped the next cloak-tie from its place and threw it at the orc, whispering, "As the whole, so the part".

The third orc fell as if struck by a stone mace. Banur took his knife and dispatched all three, and left their bodies as warning to any others that might be following. He hurried away.

Banur knew that orcs would be unlikely to follow him in the bright daylight of the new day. Nevertheless, he detoured away from his usual path, not wishing to lead orcs to his home. Thus, he came closer to the edge of the forest than was his wont. There, in the afternoon, he encountered one of the Horse People.

The tall, golden-haired man on his tall horse immediately gave chase. Banur was already weary from little sleep and battle with wolf and orc. He knew he could not reach the safety of the thick forest before being overtaken by the man.

He had but one cloak-tie left. He stopped and turned to face the Horse-Man. The man rode up, leaped from his horse and drew his sword. Banur drew the last tie from his cloak. He threw it at the man, crying again, "As the whole, so the part."

The small stone flew through the air. The man fell like a stone, like the orc, like the wolf. He did not arise.

Banur breathed heavily for some time. The man’s horse, well trained, had not run off. He seized the reins and tied it loosely to a tree. Then, with great effort, he hoisted the man across the saddle and secured him there. Banur shortened the reins so the horse would not trip, and struck it on the rump.

The horse, with the limp weight of its master on its back, and the scent of wolf, orc and Wood-Wose in its nostrils, plunged away from the forest, back to the plains and its herd.

Banur turned from the open country. He traveled the rest of the day, and into the night, moving by devious paths. When it grew cool, he thrust a sharp thorn through the cloak to hold it closed. Finally, as morning was breaking, he came to his own home and clearing. There was Ghuran looking for him with longing. She came gladly to him, and they embraced long.

As they came to the door of the house, Banur stopped and put his hands on the watch-stone. It looked a little more battered than before, and seemed to have crusted blood in places.

"The watch-stone has saved my life thrice in as many days," he said. Ghuran shuddered, and she, too, pressed her hands to the stone, giving thanks for Banur’s safe return.

They went into the house. Banur set down his pack and told his tale in full, showing the cloak, rent and with only a thorn for a pin.

Ghuran then recounted how, two nights gone, she heard a sharp crack from the watchstone. She ran through the dusk, and saw red blood on the stone. She grew cold with fear for her husband, but knew she could do no more than she had already done.

Then, yestermorn, she woke early from broken sleep at the sound of rumbling from the watchstone. She rose and went out to find black blood dripping from it, and small chips of stone around it. Thus, she knew Banur had survived the trouble of the previous evening, only to find worse this morning. She stumbled through her chores, sick with worry for him.

All day Ghuran had stayed within sight and sound of the watchstone. When she heard it again groaning, and saw red blood seep from it, she felt both relief and dread. She knew then he had escaped death from black-blooded orcs, but had used his last cloak-tie in defense against some new threat. She could not work or even eat for fear, for she knew all three cloak-ties were gone.

When she saw him approaching with the dawn, she felt limp and light-headed from relief.

"I will travel with you next time you go anywhere," she said, "and, I shall have to make new cloak-ties for you."

"Make some for yourself, as well, my dear," said Banur.

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