Eagle Eyes ran desperately to escape the flames that chased her down the hill. Her eyes burned from the smoke, but she hated the lack of visibility more than the pain. She needed to run quickly and yet, could hardly see her next footfall. So much for having the eyes of an eagle a tiny voice in her head said scornfully. She might or might not break a leg, she calculated, but being eaten by the fire would surely kill her, so on she ran. For a moment, the wind shifted and she could see a clear path before her with only a small fire to avoid and she ran even faster in that direction. Suddenly, the path before her burst into a wall of flames. She looked around desperately and caught a glimpse of another person off to her right. She couldn’t tell who it was in the murky air, but whoever it was seemed to be running directly away from her. She turned and ran in that direction.
The shadowy figure before her suddenly veered to the right, stopped, spun around and ran off at a different angle. She ran toward the shadowy figure. She soon outdistanced the flames and found herself doubled over, gasping for air in a grassy field that was unscathed by fire. Even better, she breathed clean air. She thought of how grateful she was and suddenly collapsed.
When she regained consciousness, she found herself on her belly. She raised her head, glanced down and saw human feet right beside her. She jumped and spun into a defensive combat posture. Eagle Eyes took in the posture and bearing of her enemy and had decided where to strike when a voice yelled “Stop!” She recognized the voice. It was her own voice, echoing in her head. She felt faint.
The man before her was Lion Slayer. He was trying to smile at her but grimacing in obvious pain.
“Ah, Lion Slayer. Well met. Sorry, I thought you were…I guess I thought you were one of those who steals children.”
“I understand. I was also terrified! Because of this.” He held up his injured arm. “And worse. We could be both crisply burned to a crisp. What of the others? Have you seen them?”
Both of them looked toward the open, undamaged field that lay before them. Neither saw any sign of their compatriots. Then, they turned and regarded the crest of the hill behind them. It lay a charred ruin and behind that they could see towering flames and billowing black smoke. They turned and looked at each other.
Eagle Eyes frowned. “Should we go back for them?”
Lion Slayer looked down. “I would like to. Of course. But we were very lucky to escape those flames once. We will do them no good dead.”
Eagle Eyes considered. With a sudden shudder, she recalled running through the flaming field, unable to draw breath, unable to see more than a few feet in front of her. “I hate fire. At least this kind of uncontrolled fire. It destroyed everything and everyone. I hate fire arrows.”
Lion Slayer nodded. “As do I. Eventually, it will burn itself out and I will find Hudah Salah. And the others. But now, we should move even farther away. The wind can shift again and bring the fire this way and this time, we might not be so lucky.”
Eagle Eyes also nodded. “We must be wary as well to be on the lookout for the People Who Steal Children. If we escaped, some of those might have as well. And our friends. Come, let me tend to your wounds when we get down there. Beyond that creek, there are trees. On the far side of the creek we may find jewelweed or yellow dock to help with your burns.” Here she pointed off in the distance and began walking. Lion Slayer walked beside her, constantly scanning the horizon for enemies of the human or fiery variety.
“I see some far trees. I do not know these plants, jewelweed and jello dock, but we have a kind of cactus — we put the jelly on burns.”
The eyes of Eagle Eyes brightened, “Oh, yes, I know that one. You brought some on your visit! But I don’t think it grows near here. It’s ‘yellow dock’ by the way, not ‘jello dock’.”
“Oh, sorry, yes. I wasn’t sure anyone noticed the gifts we brought. Perhaps you have no need of such things. We call it ‘aloe’.”
“Oh, yes, all of the Veritas were grateful for your gifts. I especially thought those…what did you call them? ‘Scarves’? They were quite attractive!”
“Like this one?” He pulled out from his robe a finely made scarf and held it out to her. It looked to have originally been blue and white, but now it was mostly black. “I found it easier to breathe through this. It keeps out very many of the smoke. We use them for sandstorms.”
Presently, they arrived at the creek. Sure enough, on the far side, yellow dock grew in abundance. Finding a long-abandoned campsite near the margin of the woods, Eagle Eyes made a cold wrapping of boiled leaves. To cool them quickly and more completely, she swung them in the air until they were cold to the touch. She gently laid them on the blistered skin of Lion Slayer. She was surprised that he hardly flinched. She glanced back across the creek and saw a group of people! She hoped it was Fleet of Foot! And, the others, of course. She tapped Lion Slayer on the shoulder and put her finger to her lips for quiet. She gestured for him to turn and look. He did so, stood, and began to shout, “Hudah! Hu-mmmph!”
Eagle Eyes sprang up in a flash and clamped her hand over his mouth. She put her mouth right next to his ear and, in a loud whisper said, “Wait! There are too many. Those are the People Who Steal Children!”
Lion Slayer turned looking back and forth between the figures on the horizon and Eagle Eyes. She appeared so insistent, gesturing him to get back behind the cover of nearby trees. He backed away into the trees. When they were in a fair distance but could still look out he turned again, “You cannot count how many there are! Not from here. Hudah may be there!”
Eagle Eyes put her finger to her lips to signal quiet. She whispered again. “I can count them from here. Twenty have passed by and more are still passing.”
“But then, our friends may have been captured!” he protested.
“I doubt that very much. So far, no-one resembling Fleet of Foot or any of our friends have passed by. And Fleet of Foot would probably rather fling himself into the fire than be captured. That man loves his freedom, believe me. I know him well.” For some reason, she blushed after she said this and her hands became sweaty. She glanced away from the horizon into the deep dark eyes of Lion Tamer.
She stammered out, “I mean, Shadow Walker’s probably much the same. And you. Wouldn’t you rather die in the fire than be captured?”
“No. I would fight. I hate captured. But hate fire burning more. This hurts!”
At least he’s whispering now, thought Eagle Eyes. Maybe he’s trainable. Anyway, that’s not my job. My job is to look for our friends. But now, there are too many together. I cannot really see everyone. But we must remain here until…. She decided to share her thoughts with her comrade. “I cannot get a good look at everyone. There are too many. But if our friends are there, I can tell you that they are definitely captured and vastly outnumbered. Once they all pass by, maybe we can follow their trail and we will get a better chance to see about our friends.”
When Eagle Eyes saw that there were no more passing by, she signaled Lion Tamer to follow her. He frowned and whispered, “It’s dangerous. Let me lead.”
Eagle Eyes nearly laughed aloud but stifled herself. “It much much more dangerous if you lead. I can see better. Oh, don’t make that look. You know it’s true.”
Lion Tamer sighed. He knew it was true, but somehow, he felt he should go first. It was how things were done. But not by the Veritas, he reminded himself. Their leader is a woman. Without a very good record so far, he thought silently.
Eagle Eyes got down on all fours and began creeping up the hill at an angle. She turned, put her fingers to her lips and gestured Lion Tamer to get down. He did so and they slowly moved forward through the tall grass whenever the wind came up. She turned to to say something and Lion Tamer was not there! She looked all around and then saw him coming through the grass. She crept up to him and whispered, “Stay close. Where you can see me. And hear my whispers. We don’t want to be found out. Stay close!”
Lion Tamer followed his instructions, but it made him very uncomfortable. He could see her only all too well. Much of her clothing had been burned. And Veritas women wore hardly more than men did. At her insistence, he was so close, he could not only see her, but smell her as well. And, he liked it. A lot.
Lion Tamer sighed. He thought to himself that he must put this out of his mind, at least for now. If they were discovered, they might or might not be able to outrun their enemies. Eagle Eyes stopped and held up her hand behind her. She turned and put her mouth near the ear of Lion Tamer. She whispered. “We are close enough for now. They have no horses. None. And they are not very well organized. I think it most likely that they simply ran from their village. I still see no sign of our friends, but we will creep closer after nightfall if conditions are right. Come.” She gestured toward a small gully overgrown with weeds.
He lay next to her, without touching her, but close enough to feel the heat of her body. He reminded himself of his wife, Hudah. How would he feel if he survived this fire and she did not? He hoped he did not have to discover the answer to that question. Hudah suited him just fine, though the Veritas women intrigued him. And this one…her eyes were not only effective, but deep and beautiful.
Something caught those deep and beautiful eyes and she glanced up. An eagle circled above, its majestic wings reflecting a red glow from flames burning. Eagle Eyes made an incredibly high pitched whistle. The eagle immediately banked left out of its circle and descended rapidly toward them. Eagle Eyes heard Lion Slayer gasp beside her and she lay her fingers on his lips to hush him. She slowly drew a piece of dried meat from a pouch. She gathered much of the cloth that remained and wrapped it quickly around her forearm just before the eagle alit upon it. She whispered to it gently as she fed it the meat. Eagle Eyes tore a tiny strip of blue cloth from her garment and wrapped around one of the eagle’s legs, whispering gently as she did so. The eagle stared at her as she said, “Go home. Go home. Go home.” The eagle finished the meat and flapped back up into the sky.
She turned to look at Lion Slayer, whose mouth lay agape below staring eyes.
“Will that work?!” he asked.
“I’m not sure. I’ve trained many eagles. Luckily, this was one of them. But I can’t say for certain.”
“You are an amazing … you are amazing,” said Lion Slayer, shaking his head slowly from side to side.