The Various

The Various by Steve Augarde Read Free Book Online

Book: The Various by Steve Augarde Read Free Book Online
Authors: Steve Augarde
last and the times were easier, but the winter – the winter had been hard. He would not forget. The Ickri, hunters and tree-dwellers, had survived. But the tribes that dwelt on the land – the Naiad and the Wisp – had suffered. And as for those below ground, the Tinklers and the Troggles . . . well, he would not think of that this morning. They had starved, and some had died, so ’twas said. But he would not think of that. Summer was here and on this day at least, nobody would starve.
    Glim spread his wings and floated down to a lower branch. A grey squirrel, sensing the hunter’s approaching shadow, broke cover and scrabbled up the trunk of a nearby ash tree, seeking the safety of the higher foliage. This was an old trick of Glim’s. Sometimes it was better to show yourself, to panic your prey into movement. Just a little movement, that was all he needed. Keeping his sharp eyes fixed on the whereabouts of the squirrel, he patiently began to climb once more.
    Hunting was in his nature, it was his daily task and required but little conscious thought, so Glim was able to turn his mind to other things as he tracked the squirrel through the branches of his stretch of the wood. He thought about the Naiad horse, Pegs, and the growing rumour that the animal was lost, somewhere on the wetlands, out there in Gorji territory. Two days had passed and the creature had not been seen. Now the talk was that Pegs had gone to seek out fresh pastures – to the Far Woods, if the gossip was to be believed. These were harsh times for the Various tribes, he knew that. Who knew it better? Aye, and they needed food, and fresh hunting grounds. They could never survive another winter like the last. But to send Pegs into Gorji territory . . . it was too dangerous. What if the horse were seen? Or captured? Men would come, the Gorji giants, they would come at last. All the forest – East Wood, North Wood, West and South – all would be overrun. And all the Various tribes – Ickri, Naiad, Wisp, Tinklers, Troggles – all would be finished. The Various would be doomed. The winged horse should never have been allowed to go.
    Glim quietly followed the squirrel to the topmost outer branches of the East Wood. He glanced downwards from his high perch to the landscape below – the wetlands, stretching out towards the far hills. Pegs was out there somewhere. He saw the flat open countryside, criss-crossed for miles with rhynes and ditches, still flooded here and there, the rows of pollarded willow trees dipping down towards the shimmering waters. He thought of eels and wondered if any of the Wisp had been out fishing in the night, and whether they had been successful. All this in the merest glance, but then something caught his attention for a second and he stopped concentrating on the squirrel.
    On the hillside that sloped away from the edge of the forest, far below, stood a small Gorji dwelling – a cattle-byre perhaps – an ill-repaired thing, ugly with its rot-metal red roof and dirty grey walls. Glim had seen it before, and had turned his back on it before, as he turned his back on all the works and ways of the giants. But some tiny movement had caught his practised eye, and he paused. A pale flicker by the corner of the building had appeared and disappeared. A hand? Ah, he had not been mistaken, for just then a Gorji child – a maid, he would judge – ran around the building and out into the open. She stopped to study an object half hidden among the nettles. A trough or a cauldron. Some Gorji thing. Then she looked quickly about her and ran back the way she had come, disappearing from view once more. The impression of her remained. A worried child. Panicking, frightened. A child who was not at play.
    Glim watched and waited for a minute or two, thoughtfully combing his thin brown fingers through his curly beard. He saw nothing more, and could hear nothing but the breeze whispering among the leaves around him. Finally he shrugged.

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