Hern lay by the river, eyes closed and letting the sun bathe him in its warmth. He heard a splash in the water and opened his eyes. He sat up, seeing one of the water serpents moving through the clear water. He lay on his side and reached in, running his hand along its back. It turned and nudged his hand, making his chuckle as he scratched its chin. He wished he had someone he could share all of this with, someone who was at least partially interested. Fallon was too use and so were Loki and Rain. He had secluded himself so he guessed he had to live with the consequences as he always had. He gave the serpent one more rub and pushed himself to his feet. He walked along the river, enjoy the tranquility. He needed to find something to do. He had already done his hunting for the day and visited Fallon. He had stopped at the orchard to visit with Loki and Rain while they had a few minutes off from duty. He sighed and crossed the field of azure grass to the woods.
He made his way through the trees, listening to the birds singing happily. They flitted from tree to tree, some tilting their heads this way and that as he passed by. It was like they had never seen a creature quite like him before. He climbed up a tree and sat on a large branch it was incredibly peaceful today. He had expected to have to fight something, but it was such a mellow day. The tree suddenly began to shake as something heavy walked across the ground. He climbed higher and could see a very familiar tall man walking through the woods.
“Hey Carder.” He yelled and the giant turned at the sound of his name. He smiled a toothy grin and made his way over to Hern who climbed down and walked out of the forest. Carder stood about as tall as one of the trees with deep black eyes and pale skin he was sometimes a little frightening for most people to look at.
“Hello Hern, what are you doing out here?” Carder asked as he sat down.
“Being unreasonably bored, there seems to be nothing going on.”
“I was just about to head up the mountain, I here travelers have been having trouble with the Rapu. They’ve been pulling people into one of the lakes.”
“Mind if I tag along and help where I can?”
“Be my guest, the more the merrier.”
Hern raced back to the river and grabbed his bow and quiver. He preferred to use his knife, but the bow always came in handy. He went back to Carder who sat patiently waiting. He stood when Hern said he was ready and they headed toward Mt. Sarn. He had no trouble keeping up with his large friend even though Carder had a longer stride. They passed Fallon’s house and she opened the front door to wave to them. They waved back and she smiled before going back inside. Mt. Sarn was an hour from her home and was often where she went to gather herbs. Hern had accompanied her on many occasions, learning the names of all the plants.
“Has anyone else been up there trying to stop the Rapu?” Hern asked when they made it to the base of the mountain.
“Loki, Rain, and that little goat legged man Brumer that you sometimes hunt with, but every time they get up there the damn creatures jump into the lake and disappear.” Carder answered.
About halfway up they could hear screaming. They started running, Hern grabbing and arrow as they crested a hill. There was a small grove that that was completely surrounded by the mountain. A woman was kicking at a Rapu that had her leg and was dragging her and the baby in her arms to the lake. Hern fired at it as Carder jumped down into the clearing. It let the woman go and screeched at them. Carder grabbed it before it could get away and smashed it against the ground until it was dead. Hern climbed down and ran over to the young woman. She had pale green skin and deep blue eyes. She was a VihreĆ¤ Nainen, a creature of the forest, they often came doubt to play and bathe in the lake.
“Are you alright?” Hern asked and she nodded. “How about the baby, is it okay?”
“She’s fine, thank you so much mighty Prince.” She said and he stopped himself from rolling his eyes as he helped her to her feet. He was never going to escape his heritage. He was always going to be a prince to these people.
“You are very welcome. You should head back into the woods now and don’t come back to this lake until we clear up this problem.” She bowed her head and then ran quickly away with her baby.
Hern studied the lake. It was mostly clear, giving him a view all the way to the bottom. He didn’t see anything swimming around, not even fish. The Rapu had probably cleared everything out worth eating. He wondered why they were attacking people swimming and play in and near the water. Rapu were not the nicest creatures to tangle with, but they usually gave a warning before tearing into someone. He noticed a darker spot in the water and decided it was a tunnel. They were using the cave to escape.
“Carder, I need you to go to Fallon’s and ask her for as much rope as she can give.” He said as continued to stare into the water.
“May I ask why?”
“You’ll know why when you come back.”
Carder didn’t argue, he just turned and started down the mountain. It would take him no time at all to get back. When he ran, he covered a lot of distance in a very short period of time. He sat by the lake, watching in case someone else decided to come down and swim here. He couldn’t risk anyone being killed. Carder was back in half an hour with a large bundle of rope in his hand. He sat it down on the ground and Hern got busy tying all the ends together until there was one long rope. He took one end and tied it around his waist as tight as he could, making a knot that wouldn’t come loose unless he wanted it to. He picked up the other end and held it out to Carder.
“There is a tunnel down there and I need to see where it leads. Do not let go of the rope no matter what.” He explained.
“What if you’re in danger?” Carder asked.
“Then I will tug really hard and you can pull me back.”
Carder nodded and he pulled his knife out of his boot then waded into the warm water. He took a deep breath and dove down. The water grew darker the further down he went, but his night vision kicked in and he could still see. He found the opening and pulled himself inside. He used his free hand to pull himself through the tunnel. The water was cooler here, making goosebumps rise on his arms. He was starting to run out of air, but he couldn’t turn back. A pale blue light bloomed in front of him and his head broke the surface of the water. He breathed as quietly as he could and pulled himself out of the water.
The pale blue light emanated from what Fallon called fairy crystals. They created their own light. He wiped the water off his face and moved quietly through the cave. He listened to every sound. He heard an odd clicking and chittering noise and got low to the ground. He peeked around a group of rocks and could see on of the things eating a fish. It turned its head this way and that as it ate, made some clicking sounds, and then took another bite. He moved a little closer and his foot slipped, knocking loose some rocks. The Rapu froze, lifting its head and listening. His hand tightened on his knife. He waited, but it moved off into the cave.
He untied the rope from his waist and sat it down next to the water. He followed the pale creature deeper into the cave, more clicking sounds ahead of him in the darkness. It suddenly became very quiet and he had the feeling of being watched. He started to back up and a loud screeching filled the cave. Something landed on his back. He elbowed it in the face, sending it rolling. He came to his feet, facing the very angry Rapu. It lunged at him, swiping with sharp claws and snapping with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. He grabbed the skinny thing but its throat and drove his knif into its chest, breaking through the soft one and into its heart. He tossed it on the ground and continued further into the cave.
The smell of rotting fish suddenly hit his nose and he had to cover his mouth to keep from throwing up. There were few things that turned his stomach, but he decided rotten fish was one of them. Fire light lit the darkness and he found himself standing on the edge of a small rock wall looking down into a large water filled hole. He could see more Rapu swimming in the water and some lounging on flat stones. Lining the walls were hundreds of white pods. This was a nesting ground. He had to get back and tell Carder. They would have find a way to keep people away from the lake and maybe restock it with fish. The Rapu were attacking people to protect their young. They killed more efficiently in the water so that’s why they were dragging people in.
The Rapu went still and they all suddenly looked up at him. He froze and they started screeching and climbing up the wall. He ran, knowing he couldn’t kill them all. He wouldn’t even if he could, not when they had babies on the way. He glanced behind him, seeing them running over the ground and crawling across the ceiling. He made it back to the rope and grabbed it as he dove into the water. He tugged hard and was suddenly being pulled very quickly through the water. He closed his eyes and held his breath. He slammed against the side of the tunnel as he exited and was pulled up and out of the water. Cader helped him to his feet as he gasped for air and held his side.
“There’s a nesting ground in there. You need to go to my father and tell him to build a fence tall enough to keep people out and restock the lake. There are plenty of fish is other lakes he can catch and bring here.” He said and flopped down in the grass.
“We should get back down the mountain. Your side is bruising.” Carder said. Hern nodded and pushed himself to his feet. He followed the giant as quickly as he could. They made to to Fallon’s as the sun was starting to go down and he banged on her door. She pulled it open and let him in.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
“I just need something for pain. I hurt my ribs.” He said and sat down.
She mixed him up a mild pain potion and he drank it quickly. “What happened?”
“Some Rapu had been attacking people because they have a nesting ground beneath the lake.”
“My goodness Hern, you could have been killed.”
“I’m fine Fallon, barely even a bruise.” She frowned and he smiled warmly up at her. “Can I have something to eat please?”
“You are a bottomless pit. Yes, you can. I think. Have some cherry pie left.” He waited patiently as she cut his a nice big slice and brought it bag. He was ravenous with hunger and almost ate it in one bite. “So what is being done about the lake?”
“I told Carder to tell my father to build a fence and restock the lake. If he gives his permission I plan on helping. I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
“You’re such a good boy, a real sweet heart.”
There was a light tapping on Fallon’s door and she pulled it open. It was Loki and Rain. Behind the, was Carder. Hern stood and stepped outside, not wanting to leave the giant alone. He smiled at his friends as he closed Fallon’s door behind him. “The King gave his permission for a fence to be built.” Loki said. “You must have been out of your mind to dive into a Rapu den.”
“I didn’t know it was a den when I went in.”
“I doubt that, you know everything.” Rain said with a laugh.
“How many men are coming to help?”
“Twenty and Carder. With out giant friend here the job shouldn’t last more than a couple of days.” Loki answered. “So are we staying out by the river with you then?”
“It would probably be better that way. We can all head for the mountain tomorrow morning and meet the other men.”
It felt good to be back by the river. Loki and Rain made a fire while he lay there rubbing his ribs. He needed to point out to Carder that he was a lot stronger than he knew. He could have broken something. Rain and Loki talked excited about the new fence while he stared at the sky. They must have been having a really boring week of the thought of a fence made them happy or maybe it was the prospect of fighting something. He sighed and stood, walking over to the harp and setting down on the log. He plucked the strings and his friends grew silent. The music reminded him of the night, peaceful and beautiful. He hoped he evoked images of shooting stars and fairies dancing in the moonlight. He finished the song and turned to look at Loki and Rain. They sat there, mouths hanging open looking dumbstruck.
“Best clothes your mouths before you swallow a fly.” He said and he heard their teeth click together as they snapped their mouths shut.
He went back to his spot by the water and laced his fingers behind his head. He closed his eyes, knowing he would need all the energy he could get to help build a fence. The next morning Rain woke him by slapping cold river water into his face. He jumped on the younger man and they rolled across the ground. Loki laughed so hard he was laying on the grass clutching his stomach. Hern managed to get the I beneath him and pin his arms behind his back.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Rain said as he laughed.
“You better be you little brat.” Hern replied and before he knew it he was laying in the grass laughing along with them.
“It’s been a long time since you showed your fun side.” Loki said as he wiped away tears.
“I have lots of fun thank you very much.”
“Oh yeah, going on dangerous journeys with sex crazed deer women and diving into dangerous lakes sound very exciting.”
“Try it some time and you’ll see.”
They got to their feet and started for Fallon’s. She already had breakfast ready and they sat outside and ate. Rain flicked some sugar butter rice at Hern who flicked some back. The boy was looking to be put in a headlock. They finished breakfast and thanked Fallon before heading to the Mt. Sarn. Carder was waiting for them at the lake along with twenty other men who had carried a lot of supplies up the mountain. Carder was already pulling trees out of the ground and laying them out to be chopped. Hern, Loki, and Rain all picked up and axe and started cutting limbs off the trees. Other men stripped the bark and then a couple more piled up the debris. Sweat trickled down Hern’s nose as the hot sun beat down on him. Carder had his own axe that he used to chop the trees into sections with one swing.
At noon everyone took a break and had something to eat and drink. They talked about families, about new babies soon to be born, and some even whispered about a here himself. They were wondering if he was ever going to come to his senses and go back to the castle. He wanted to tell them to mind their own business, but knew it would do no good. He finished eating and grabbed his axe, continuing to chop trees. At the end of the day they had piles of different lengths of wood. The taller ones would be used as posts that they were going to have Carder drive into the ground. They were eight feet tall. Hern helped move the debris closer to the water and one of the men set it on fire.
He decided he was going to stay there with the rest of the men rather than go back to the river. He was to tired to walk anyway. He sat down and leaned his back against a pile of wood. He knew he was going to be sore in the morning, but it didn’t matter. It was a small price to pay to keep innocent people safe. He closed his eyes, drifting off peacefully. No dreams came to him, no nightmares either.
“Hey ugly, time to wake up.” He heard Loki say and snapped his eyes open in irritation.
“You’re one to talk, you’re absolutely hideous.” Hern retorted and took Loki’s outstretched hand so his friend could pull him to his feet.
“Time to get to work.”
Everyone waited patiently as Carder drove post after post into the ground around the lake. When he was done they all got to work building the fence. They worked through breakfast and lunch, wanting to finish the fence that day. They left a gap for a door in the side. Hern and Loki put the door on and another man fixed a latch to it that had a lock on it. This was so fish could be taken in and put in the lake fore the Rapu. He was amazed that none of the creatures had come out of the lake. Maybe he had scared them into hiding for a couple of days. He walked the perimeter of the fence, making sure every board was secure so nothing could break in or out. He thanked the men for their help and told them they could go home. Loki, Rain, and Carder accompanied him back down the mountain. He parted ways with Loki and Rain promising to visit soon. Carder went back into the woods not far from his campsite. Hern was so tired and covered in sweat. He pulled his clothes off and jumped on the river, quickly washing and then redressing.
He lay down, so tired he couldn’t think straight. His stomach growled and he ignored it. He would eat tomorrow if he didn’t die of being sore. The next morning he felt like death. He managed to get to his feet and walk slowly to Fallon’s house. He banged on her door and she opened it, immediately handing him a cup. “What is this?” He asked.
“It’s what is going to make sure you can walk and play your harp today.” Fallon answered as she let him in.
“Why would I be playing my harp today? I was planning to go back to the lake to check the fence again.”
She hesitated for a moment then said, “Because I can hear the music from here and it reminds me of your mother.”
He sighed. “Alright, but don’t blame me if it sounds horrible.”
“Nonsense, you are an amazing musician.”
He drank the sweet liquid and immediately felt better. His muscles relaxed and he was able to move freely. She brought him something to eat next and he smiled at her. She must have known he would be starving after the last couple of days. He ate two bowls and then another cup of her tea. “Thank you so much Fallon. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Starve to death, be in pain every day.”
“True.” He stood and hugged her. “You are my hero.” He said. He left her house and headed happily back down the river. He waved at Carder who was standing on the edge of the forest. He made it back to camp and stretched before setting down at his harp. He inhaled the fresh air and started to pluck the strings. He played his mother’s song for Fallon, knowing like him it was her favorite. He closed his eyes and let the music wash over him, filling him with joy. A twig snapped behind him and his eyes snapped open. He turned around, his eyes colliding with those of a very surprised young woman. He blinked, unsure of she was actually there or not.
“Um, hello there uh…deer man.” She said, the tone of her voice saying if you’ll just turn back around I promise to disappear.
Deer man? He thought. “My name is Hern and this is my domain. What are you doing here?” They just looked at each other for a moment, a strange tugging in the vicinity of his heart.