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|This is a story that describes the childhood experiences of Tara McCarther. It is still being written. Comments are welcome! Edit: Comments made up to the date of February 2007 have been incorporated. *sings* Times... they are a changin'....||
Tara sat quietly on a sun-warmed rock deep in the forest. She was many miles from Teacher’s cave. She had swiftly run here after breakfast that morning. Tara had grown fond of this isolated rock and came often to think and remember. She wasn’t sure if Teacher knew where she went but he didn’t seem concerned with her long absences. The rock seemed to her to be somewhat like her home. She could not remember very much of home or her mother. But the rock seemed like home so she came to remember.
Her lessons with Teacher were going well, she supposed, but it seemed to her that Teacher could never teach her everything she wanted to know. So she came to her rock to learn.
Sitting in the forest she could hear all the small sounds of the creatures that lived around. The wind sang beautiful melodies of open grassland and the mazes of mountain peaks. The trees whispered to her of the secrets of the squirrels and the gossiping streams. Young deer took safety in her presence and slept beside her. Birds sat in her hair and chirruped of their spacious nests. So she learned about the forest and she learned about those that lived there.
Sometimes Tara stayed well into the night. The rock remained warm and was curved to let her lay comfortably. At night moonshine illuminated her hair and the stars twinkled merrily, beckoning her to join them. She knew one day she had to return to those stars, that somewhere beyond them was her home. But, not yet.
On a whim, Tara leapt off of her rock and began to run. She ran through the forest, following well-worn deer paths until she came to the rock wall. Teacher had forbidden her to pass this wall and Tara knew why. The wall was built by Men. These Men were like her in appearance but they were powerless and could not speak with Nature. Tara had come to this wall before and hidden in the treetops to watch any that wandered close so she could learn from them. Men did not teach her anything astounding, they only revealed their nature through their actions. Creatures of the forest were made to serve these Men.
Never before had Tara disobeyed Teacher’s orders. He was her teacher; he was wiser in these things. Tara also knew that sometimes knowledge could not be gained without risk, a fact Teacher himself had often reminded her of. She leaped atop the wall and began to skip and run atop it. No one saw her. Soon Tara came to the ruins of a stone castle. She knew it was called a castle because that was what the Men called it. Their language was simple enough to learn, and unimaginative. Tara climbed to the top of the ruins where she had a view of the valley. A strange sound caught her attention.
Directly below her, two of the Men were dancing around one another. They were holding pieces of wood, taken from the trees of the forest. Each was trying to hit the other, though the older man was better and more graceful. After studying them for some time, Tara jumped down from her perch, into the yard where they were. Both jumped in surprise and their sticks turned towards her. The younger one spoke and Tara cocked her head, listening to their voices.
“Who do you think she is?”
The older man kept studying her carefully, the same way she studied the details of the forest. Finally he spoke, “I don’t know, but she certainly doesn’t live in any civilized way. Look at her ragged clothes and her unkempt hair. No wife-mother would let her daughter run wild like that. Plus, look at how she is studying us, it’s almost as if she’s never seen humans before.”
“So she’s a wild child from the woods. Maybe a pixie or fairy. We should run her off before the townspeople get a hold of her.” This was the younger man and as Tara processed what he said, she couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want her around.
“Careful, Garret. We don’t know how dangerous she is.”
“Please Master Tomlin, how much can she know of swords? I will be fine.”
Tomlin only shook his head as Garret started advancing toward Tara. She stood still, deciding what her next move would be. Garret started to swing his stick and Tara dropped to the ground, her weight on her hands and one leg swinging around, wiping Garret’s feet out from under him. He fell on his butt and his wooden stick fell down beside him. Tomlin started laughing as he offered his hand to Garret. Tara stood back up, now watching the two men more warily.
“She sure got you there, Garret. Let it be a lesson to you. Never underestimate your opponent. What a quick little lithe thing she is too!” Tomlin paused and looked back at Tara. “Do you have a name, child?”
“Ta’Maral’Aila.” The name rolled easily off her tongue. It was her given name.
“Whoa there, I don’t think I could remember that! What about something shorter? I am Tomlin, but most call me Tom.” Tom was smiling kindly at Tara. She shyly looked up at him.
“I am called Tara.”
Tom kept smiling, it was a sincere gesture and Tara felt comfortable talking with him. He would be kind. Garret was still on the ground, having ignored Tom’s offer of a helping hand.
“You understood us the entire time? Why didn’t you say anything before I made a fool of myself?” He got up with a frustrated grunt and turned to pout in the corner.
“I didn’t quite grasp your language before I heard you using it. I wanted to be sure I could speak with you first.” Tara was confused by Garret’s hostility towards her. Tom broke in.
“I’m sorry, Tara. Garret’s not being quite nice because he doesn’t like to be beaten by a girl. Have you seen swordplay before?”
Tara shook her head. She was not sure she liked the prospect of committing an act of physical violence for fun. It was not right.
“Maybe…, maybe I could just watch, Master Tom?”
Tom nodded his head in acquiescence and turned to Garret. “Pick up your sword, boy. We go again!”
Tara returned to the castle for several days to watch Tom teach Garret. She realized as she watched that this swordplay was a beautiful dance where Tom moved with a deadly grace and Garret was a clumsy beginner. Tara silently absorbed the new information she was learning as she had absorbed the knowledge of the forest.
Tom noticed the interest she demonstrated during the practices. He didn’t want to press the child and so kept his thoughts to himself.
Garret, on the other hand, became more irritable with each day. He resented Tara for stealing Tom’s attention and began making mistakes. One such mistake allowed Tom to thoroughly smack his abdomen and Garret grunted in pain.
“Boy! What is wrong with you as late? Your form is terrible.” Tom was furious with how easily Garret had lost. “If you don’t get better I’ll lose all hope of making you a proper Prince Consort!”
“He needs to shift his grip,” Tara chimed in, pleased she had seen the source of Garret’s mistake. “His feet aren’t under the center of his body either. It’s causing him to leave open opportunities for strikes.” She smiled in satisfaction.
Tom stared openmouthed while Garret shot her a murderous glare.
“If you’re such an expert why don’t you demonstrate, wild child!” Garret sneered. He lanced his sword at Tara who swiftly dodged the weapon and caught the handle, though only barely. “Well! Go on!”
Tara stared uneasily at the weapon in her hand. There was so much difference between theory and practical application. And then of course there was the moral dilemma. She never wanted to harm another being, though Teacher said sometimes there was no choice. Was this one of those moments? She couldn’t decide. Her confusion was evident in her eyes and Tom quickly spoke.
“We would not be hurting each other, child. The goal is to get the first strike on the opponent.” He was curious to see where this turn of events would lead.
Tara stared at the sword a moment longer and then stared into Tom’s eyes, looking for confirmation of his soothing words. He began to nod when Tara attacked, she knew what he had said was true.
Her flurry of attacks backed Tom against a wall, who was briefly disadvantaged, but being a more seasoned fighter, recovered quickly. Tara backed off, into a more defensive position, having determined she hadn’t the skill to fight offensively. Her eyes flashed as she studied Tom’s movements and he soon attacked leaving her adrenaline high and heart racing.
In the heat of the moment she forgot her hesitation and focused instead on the goal. Her movements became fluid and sure and even as Tom fenced off each attack he noted the improvement. Tom began to press back onto Tara, forcing her back into the defensive when she rolled into a ball and ducked under his swing, jumping up to lay the flat of her blade against his back.
“That was exhilarating, Tom!” Her skin was flushed and her eyes bright. “Let’s try again!”
“Oi child,” Tom wheezed, “I can’t take much more, did you have to hit so hard?”
“I’m so sorry, can I heal it for you?” Tara was horrified that she had caused him pain, and quickly put down her sword to go assist him.
Tom forced a grin, “No need. Nothing herbs can do here. I’ll walk it off. But you, you were pretty decent there for a beginner.”
“You think so? I wasn’t sure I had the grip right. There were so many nuances that I kept forgetting and…” Tara let the sentence fade as Tom shook his head in laughter.
“Oh, child, you were excellent, but you could use some refining. Could I teach you those finer points? I would meet you here every day or so, when I take Garret out.”
Tara’s eyes lit up. “Would you really? I would have to ask Teacher though.” Her spirits fell. Teacher would never let her learn how to fight from a Man.
“Who is your teacher? Maybe I could talk to him.”
At that statement, Tara’s eyes widened in worry.
“No, that is not a good idea. I will talk to him myself. You should not speak to him. I will do it. I should go.” Tara turned to leave, “I will meet you here tomorrow at noon?”
Tom was confused, but then, this girl was confusing. “If you think that’s best, then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
With a quick smile, Tara dashed off, leaping over the stone wall and disappearing into the forest. Tom sat on a nearby stone, smiling in amusement. Garret came over to him.
“You aren’t serious about teaching her? Why would you want to teach a girl how to use a sword? And a wild forest child at that?”
Tom turned to look at Garret. “I don’t know what came over me, but I thought it was the right thing to do. We’ll still have practices at noon, but you and she will just learn together. It will be good for you.” With that Tom reached for the two practice swords and walked back to his village and home. Garret sulked in the ruins for several minutes before walking over to his white horse, waiting at the foot of the stone structure. He jumped on and wheeled the animal around, racing home to his father, the Lord of the land.
Tara ran through the forest, back to the caves by the sea where she and Teacher made their home. He was waiting outside of the entrance to his cave, waiting for her to return.
“YOU HAVE BEEN BUSY.” His voice was a deep rumbling and Tara’s whole body vibrated from the sound.
“Yes I have. May I learn to use a sword from the Men on the other side of the forest Teacher? One has offered. He is kind and not evil in his intent.” Teacher had never scared Tara. When her mother first left her here with Teacher, she had been placed in his arms as a babe and curled up, lulled to sleep by his low rumblings. However, despite her lack of fear, Tara understood that Men did not have the same opinion. She knew that Teacher had often been hunted down because he was held in fear. Tara was afraid that if Tom came to ask Teacher if she could learn the sword, then he would tell others where Teacher was hiding. No amount of good intent can override fear of the unknown. So Tara asked herself. Teacher did not answer for a long time, and presently he walked back into the cave. Tara followed silent as snow falling in the forest. Sometimes Teacher did this. He would wait before answering though Tara had yet to determine why this was.
Teacher walked into the far back of the cave where a table was set. Tara sat on the only chair. She amused herself by lighting the candle and blowing it out, all the while keeping her hands in her lap and her chin on the table, staring at the wax as it melted and hardened.
“DO NOT WASTE CANDLELIGHT. WHY DO YOU WANT TO THE LEARN THE SKILL OF SWORDPLAY?” His rumbling voice echoed throughout the large space of the cave. Tara stopped playing with the candle.
“Somehow I know I will need it. I don’t know when, but I want to be prepared. Besides, I like learning. Tom offers me a chance to learn.” Tara switched to lighting flame on her palm. The fire floated just above her skin and she could not even feel the heat. It was a trick she learned from a wandering witch.
“YOU MUST BRING TOM TO MEET ME. I WOULD KNOW WHO IS TEACHING MY CHARGE. I WILL NOT HAVE YOU HURT IN ANY WAY. YOUR MOTHER WOULD NEVER FORGIVE ME, THE RESPONSIBILITY IS GREAT.”
“I understand Teacher, what if another Man comes with Tom. He was suspicious of me, but I feel that Tom is his teacher, as you are mine. He cannot leave him, he is only a boy Man.”
“IF THIS OTHER ONE MUST COME AS WELL HE MUST NOT ENTER THE CAVE, IF HE DOES HE CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO SEE ME. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“Yes, Teacher, and thank you!”
“I HAVE NOT GIVEN MY PERMISSION YET. I MUST MEET TOM.”
The following day dawned clear and bright. Tara raced from the cave and into the forest. Teacher watched her go with a wry smile. She arrived at the ruins early and climbed again to the top of the stones to await Tom and Garret. Garret came first, riding his white horse. The creature enthralled Tara. She had not seen one of these animals before and its beauty was magnificent. She leapt down from the height, again scaring Garret.
“Will you stop doing that? I don’t know what Master Tomlin sees in you but...” Garret stopped when he realized Tara was paying no attention to him.
“What is this creature called? I have not seen its like before.” Tara slowly approached the horse, holding out her hands in a non-threatening way. Its head perked up at her approach.
Hello, I am Tara.
Good day Honored One, I am Meracu of the Pacis Amans herd. We have long awaited your coming, our kind everywhere can now rejoice.
You serve these Men?
Not by choice, though for some it is pleasurable, for others it is torture. Those that still run free cherish their ingenuus. It is foretold that one of our kind, from the Parva Stella herd will be your companion to the end of days. This herd is known only in legend but it is said that you will find them. I am blessed to have met you. Be free.
“It’s called a horse. This horse is mine, his name is Albus.” Garret spoke, startling Tara.
“Oh that is original.” Tara’s reverie was broken, her conversation with Meracu almost a dream.
Garret turned to her, “That’s sarcasm, you were being sarcastic!”
“Is that what it is called? Naming a white horse white? Why not Meracu? That means pure.” Garret was just about to reply when Tom arrived.
“Good, I’m glad everyone arrived here with time to spare. Let’s get started.”
“Tom, Teacher wants to meet you, today, before any lessons are started.”
“Tara, I hardly think we have time…”
“He insists. I’m to take you there. Garret can come too; he just has to stay with me.” Tara looked up at both men.
“I think I’ll stay. I don’t want to go wandering around in the forest with a crazy girl.” Garret turned to leave, untying his horse from where he’d left it. Tom took Tara’s hand.
“Lead the way, forest child.”
Tara led Tom into the forest, chattering about the animals and trees that she had seen. Tara knew in her mind that the distance between Teacher’s cave and the stone wall was a great distance, greater than it would take to quickly arrive when traveling no faster than a walk. With this in mind she took the two ends of the forest and folded them, thus skipping several miles of rough terrain. Tom did not notice as he walked through the merge. Once they both were past, Tara returned the forest to its original state. They soon came out by the caves, the salty wind cooling their faces. Tom turned to her.
“The sea is many leagues from my village. How did we get here so fast?”
“I know a shortcut. Teacher is close by. I have advice for you. Do not be afraid of Teacher. He will seem dangerous but he only wishes to talk. I cannot go in with you but I will stay out by the cave entrance. Keep your mind open.”
Tom stopped and knelt in front of Tara so they were eye to eye. “I will try to not be afraid.” He stood up and began to walk into the cave.
“Teacher will not hurt you.” Tara called after him but Tom had already passed beyond hearing. She sat down on the ground, making herself comfortable. She knew this conversation would take some time.
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