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The Stone Throwers:
A Man-Hunt For Vietnam War Draft Evaders

Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Thirteen)

Lorash fumed silently as he walked along. Exiled from the forest? Why, he had saved the forest twice over, nearly single handedly! A hint of a smile crossed his lips, as he considered. It had not been a total waste. It seemed his little sister had awakened to the foolishness of linking her life with a human. Granted, Harsov had the best pedigree a human could possibly have...but that was not saying much. Perhaps it would be good for all concerned for him to leave the forest for awhile.

Nodding slowly, Lorash continued his thought. He would have left regardless, as it was his mother's dying wish, that he find his father. Curling his lips in scorn, he considered this. A foul creature, his father. Abandoning the most beautiful dryad in all the forest, and his unborn son. Leaving them naught in return but his mage staff, now shattered and useless. Not to mention the greatest shame of he seldom dared to admit, even to himself. His father was one of the despised humans! What his mother had ever seen in him was beyond comprehension. And her daughter, his sister Elorna, had nearly followed suit!

Enough wasting time. Withdrawing the shattered pieces of the mage staff, Lorash invoked a simple locate spell. It was far from precise, but it should give him a general direction to seek the lecherous old coot. The staff shards glowed softly, and in his mind, Lorash sensed a faint direction.

So, he was some distance away. Very well, the travel would give him time to further study matters. There was something very odd about Elorna's actions, even though he grudgingly approved of them. Much that had happened this day would bear further thought.
Concentrating, he willed the change. He needed to travel swiftly, and did not know the terrain well enough to use Silvanus' plant transport ability. Nor was he ready to risk summoning another air elemental at the moment. That was another area which required thought.

A lean dire wolf crouched where the elven priest had stood. This was a form he knew well, and was much swifter than his own. It's senses were keener also, and would alert him if he approached any of the humans infesting the land.

Heartsick, Harsov gathered his few meager possessions. His fears had been well founded after all. Elorna had never truly loved him, or she could not have cast him out so readily. It was understandable. She was beautiful, powerful, and among the nobility. He was a lowborn mongrel, not even an elf at all. The wolf pup whined softly, pressing its nose against his hand. He quirked a half smile as he glanced down.

"Not ready to leave me yet, eh pup?" "Well, you will in time. Once you are grown and have no more use for me. Until then, we'll hunt together for a bit, eh?" Ruffling the wolf's fur between its ears, he heaved a ragged sigh. Glancing up, he saw a form looming in the doorway. "Don't worry Bladesong, I'm leaving. Or were you hoping to harry me through the woods as I departed?"

The blademaster hung his head as he replied, "I regret my words earlier. I spoke harshly, for I was angry and frightened. I was angry at myself as much as anything, I suppose." Seeing the youth's lifted eyebrows, he nodded. "Yes, at myself. I could not protect my leader, the man I loved like a brother. Now he is dead. I could not protect the dryads, the poor innocent ones. Now many of them are slain or maimed. I could not protect our forest, now devastated by the battle. It will take many years and hard work to restore it. Some guardian I am," he ended with a rueful little smile.

"You are a gifted warrior, a caring guardian, and above all, an honest man. You gave your all to defend this forest. No man, guardian or otherwise, could do more. Yet I do have one request to ask of you, if you would so honor me."

Bladesong glanced curiously at Harsov, then replied. "I will do nothing to gainsay Elorna's words." A moment he paused, before continuing. "At least that is one bright spot out of all that has happened this day. A dryad queen once more leads our people. Pinedaughter will never again have the respect and leadership she once enjoyed."

Harsov, closed his eyes for a moment, blocking out remembered pain. "I would never ask you to disobey your queen. In fact, my request pertains to another matter entirely. My mother is alone now, weak and with child. With both myself and my sire gone, she will require a strong man to stand beside her. It would please me if you could be that man."

Bladesong stood in stunned amazement for a moment, then glanced away before replying. Pretending he did not hear the catch in the youth's voice as he spoke, or see the tears glistening in his eyes, he replied, "Your words do you honor, young one." "I see that Ironbark has not truly left us, for a portion of his spirit resides in you. Yes, I would be proud to honor your request. Your father was a brave man...far more so than I once believed. I count it a great honor to care for his wife. As for the child, I will raise him as if he were my own, providing your mother will allow it."

Harsov nodded mutely, not trusting his voice further. Gathering up his few possessions, he departed the only home he had ever known. Like his father so many years before, he did not look back.

Bramblelheart chuckled softly to herself as she considered the day's events. Her father, badly injured and perhaps even slain. Herself, freed at last from her captivity, and in a position of authority over the elves of the forest! Ironbark slain, his annoying human spawn disposed of, and that arrogant little priest banished for life. All in all, a fine day indeed. To top it all off, she had a beautiful body once more. She smiled maliciously as she considered the possibilities.

As he loped along, Lorash studied his surroundings closely, drinking in the sensation of freedom. New vistas to explore, no longer bound to one small forest. No family to protect, no need of warding an area from encroaching intruders. He was free to roam and explore as he wished. Granted, he had a mission, his mother's dying wish, that he find his father. Still, there was no imperative behind it. The demon lord had been vanquished and his army dispersed. There was no great hurry to return to his home. In point of fact, perhaps he no longer had a home.

The thought annoyed him, causing his lip to curl in a silent snarl. How dare Elorna banish him from the forest! If not for his actions, there would be no forest, nor elf or dryad to tend it. A slow grin curled his lip further as he reflected. At least she seemed to have matured during the battle, and gained full use of her abilities. In a grudging way, he was proud of her. In time, her anger would cool. Granted, that might take a century or two, but that meant little to one such as he. No, he was in no great hurry....even as he considered this fact, he skidded to a stop.

What was happening here? The elven forest had given way to flatlands and scrub brush, as he had exxpected after the Great Burning, curse the humans and their love of fire. Yet now he was entering a new forest, if anything more lush than his own. Nor was this all. There were trees and bushes of every variety he had seen, and some he had not. Each was either in bloom, or bearing fruit of its kind. What could cause such a thing?

As he considered the situation, he noticed something else. The forest was absolutely, preternaturally quiet. No bird sang, no bees buzzed, nothing disturbed the eerie silence. Lorash's lip quirked in a half smile. This was indeed a puzzle, and puzzles always intrigued him.

Harsov ruffled the fur of the wolf cub as it brushed against him. It was half grown now, and already larger than most dogs. "Well boy, looks like we're on our own now. No family or home for either one of us, eh?"

The wolf whined softly, unable to understand the words but picking up the anxiety and heartache in the youth's voice. He nuzzled Harsov's hand, encouraging another caress from him. The boy laughed, thumping the wolf on the side. "We're not worried, right boy? Give us both a chance to stretch our legs and see the world. Everyone tells me I'm human, not elf, so we'll just wander over to a human city and check things out."

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