Avea by J. L. Roth

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SUMMARY: That this strange woman was powerful, Staan had no doubt. But in this world where lines were drawn and one either served the Light or the Darkness, where exactly did Avea fall?

The woods around him were eerily quiet. The wind in the trees whispered not the words of comfort he usually found in nature, but instead moaned ominously. There was a veiled threat in the sound of the leaves as they rustled. Each step taken by his mount seemed to make the animal increasingly nervous. Daylight peeked through the branches at intervals just frequent enough to remind him it was mid-morning and not the dark of night. A shudder passed through him. Though he was a man of proven courage and an understanding of the forces of the world, he felt his body tense at the thought of passing through these woods at night. A glance down at the white dog that trotted along side his horse confirmed that the discomfort was unanimous.

He would never know from what direction the attack came. They seemed to be around and upon him instantaneously. The thud of the first large, four-legged predator as it slammed into his body knocked him from the saddle. It landed full upon his chest and lunged forward to his throat. There was no time to identify the beast whose sharp white teeth tore at the skin on his arms, raised to protect his vulnerable neck. He was barely able to register the screaming, snarling and growling as his furred companions battled for their own lives. The last thing he felt was the warm flood of his own life pouring from the gash his attacker sliced into his throat. So this is how he would die.

In what seemed the next moment he felt the urge to open his eyes, but they refused to cooperate. His consciousness grew stronger and he forced his eyelids to part. The hazy blur swam in his view; it seemed an eternity before he could focus. His eyes picked out the scene around him. Directly above him a large wooden beam the size of a full-grown tree crossed the ceiling. His hands moved over the heavy quilt that covered him. At first glance it seemed crude and simplistic, the large squares in a jumble of colors formed no discernable pattern. He had seen his wife teaching his daughters to sew using a similar technique.

The bandaged hands moved to his neck where he had last felt his life draining away. His fingers felt only a slight scratch, scabbed over and healed. By ignoring the pain in his head, chest and neck he lifted his eyes to get a better view of the room. A bare scene met his gaze as he took in the small space. A cabin, obviously, made of whole logs; no planking or polishing of the wood had been done. The gaps seemed filled with mud, some areas fresher than the others. A straight-backed chair stood before the fireplace in which burned a blaze that would not have been expected on this mid-summer day.

As he lay his head back down he heard a slight whimper, the memory of the attack came flooding through his confusion and pain erasing the former and intensifying his awareness of the latter. Nola! He forced himself to lift again and searched the room for the source of the sound. He found her lying on the floor in a nest of blankets. Her white head lifted as she looked at him. *It is all right my friend.* He found the soundlessness of her voice in his head reassuring.

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