Runt of the Litter
Ties That Bind
Bynn tapped his foot nervously as he sat outside one of the guest bedrooms in his home. His eyes burned from lack of sleep. The young elf had ignored all urges to clean up and rest. How could he rest while his mentor battled for every breath?
Vaidon had lovingly grabbed Bynn’s hand before she went in to see her father, and she dismissed his apologies with a wave of her hand. Had it already been a full day since she had gone in? Bynn’s mind, exhausted from the trauma of the hunt and lack of sleep, kept replaying the scene with the terror birds over and over again. The young elf went over every possible scenario to try to figure out what he could have done differently. What could I have done to save Kaa?
Bynn played the scene again, this time from the perspective of Kaa. He looked across to where he should have been charging with bow in hand; but he saw Vaidon instead. She pointed and laughed at him. Bynn turned and saw a huge violet dragon. He felt the sting of the tail on his shoulder once again. He screamed and jumped.
Bynn woke with Vaidon’s hand lightly on his shoulder. “You fell asleep,” she said gently. Vaidon could tell from his expression that he was ashamed for falling asleep. “Your body demands rest. You can’t stay awake forever.”
“How is he?” Bynn asked. He stood and tried to shake the nightmare from his mind.
“He will be fine,” Vaidon answered kindly, but Bynn picked up a hint of sadness in her voice. “He wants to see you.” She walked over to Bynn and kissed him on the cheek. She whispered, “I love you.” Bynn turned to face her. “I know I have never actually said it, but I hope that you have known it.” She placed her hand gently on his chest, and could feel his heart beating strongly. “Know that I will always love only you.”
“And I will love only you,” Bynn pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed her fingers.
The two elves shared a smile, and then Vaidon remembered her father. “Go and talk to him. He is waiting.” Bynn had to take a few deep breaths and get the smile off his face before he walked into Kaa’s room.
While waiting for Munkus to return, Spores and Stumpy passed the time by playing a game. A sloth was trying to sleep, hanging upside down and curled up in a tree. The groundlings were using the small fungi that grew on the sloth’s fur to tickle the poor beast. Every time the sloth would get comfortable, they would mess with him.
“What are you two doing?” Munkus asked as he strolled up behind the two distracted groundlings.
They knew that Munkus would not approve of their torturing the animal, so they lied. “We were just watching that sloth,” Stumpy stated. They both stared up at Munkus and nodded their heads.
Spores quickly changed the subject, “Back from Silkwood already? How did the elves react when you presented it to them?”
“How do you think they reacted?” Munkus asked as he cocked his head to the side. The leonal groundling’s eyes were wide; almost maniacal. Spores lowered his mushroom-capped head, and took a step back. He had never seen Munkus like this.
Stumpy did not notice, however, and he answered, “Well, if I was given the Heart of Carinth I guess I would be ecstatic. May even give you a big hug.” A disgusted look washed over the groundling’s wooden face. “They didn’t hug you, did they?”
Munkus snarled. “And what will the elves do now that they have this? Will they not come against me once again?”
“Come against you?” Stumpy asked. “Why would they come against you?”
“Because that is not Munkus,” Spores said in a voice full of somber acceptance.
The lion-like visage disappeared; replaced by the snarling face of Tiranis. Her egg tooth was inches away from Stumpy’s wooden nose. She snapped her head forward and crunched on the confused groundling. Spores did not even try to run from the dragon. He knew it was useless. Spores expected no mercy from Tiranis; and he was not disappointed.
Bynn was greeted with a huge smile from Kaa. “Come in. Come in,” Kaa waved for Bynn to join him at bedside. The older elf laughed, “I guess you don’t need my permission; it is your home after all.” Bynn pulled up a chair and sat next to his one-armed friend. He did not know what to say to Kaa. So much had transpired, and he did not know where to start. Luckily, Kaa took control and led the conversation. “So you carried me all the way back to Silkwood?”
“Of course,” Bynn flexed his bicep muscle, “I just let you climb right up here and took you for a ride.” Both elves laughed heartily. Kaa was glad to have Bynn in the room; everyone else had seemed so somber and the hunter enjoyed being able to laugh with the younger elf.
“Tell me you grabbed some of those terror bird feathers,” Kaa said excitedly. “Finest fletching on the island.”
Bynn smiled and nodded. “I knew that if you survived you would be so mad at me if I didn’t get us some. I snatched a bunch when I went back to get my swords.”
“Won’t be much good to me now, but it was still good thinking,” Kaa was proud of his young protégé. “So how did you get me back to your house?” The question had been nagging at Kaa since he woke.
“I actually got very lucky,” Bynn admitted. “A groundling helped me. I thought they were just selfish little earth demons, but I don’t think I would have made it without his help.” Kaa seemed surprised. “He carried you. He was powerful, beyond anything I could have imagined; and yet he was kind. The groundling warned me that the blood monkeys were pressing farther and farther north. He feared that they would soon attack Silkwood.”
Kaa took a moment to digest the information. “Where is the groundling now?”
“He was going to talk to the elders, but that was yesterday. He said he had something to give them.” Bynn wished he had more information to give Kaa, but he had wanted to stay close.
Kaa did not press any further. He was glad Bynn had been close. The two elves continued to talk for a while until Kaa got tired. However, before he fell asleep he asked if Bynn would stay in the room as well. Moments after Kaa let himself succumb to slumber; Bynn was snoring in the chair next to him. They both deserved the rest.
“My mother made you!” Tiranis screamed. “She made you to protect me, and you failed her.”
Munkus did not back down from the dragon. He kept his head held high, despite his fear. “Your mother summoned me, she did not create me. She asked that I protect you, and I did so because she was the rightful keeper of the Heart.”
“As am I!” Tiranis proclaimed violently.
“No,” Munkus shook his head. He was ready to accept death with his next words. “Your heart is twisted by hate. Your soul is bent on revenge. You failed your mother. She would not want you to have the stone; not if she saw you now.”
“Mother was a killer, just like me.” Tiranis sneered. “She taught me well how to do it.”
“That is correct,” Munkus conceded. “However, she also understood when not to kill. There is a time to refrain. Unfortunately, you never learned that lesson.” Munkus stared at the dragon with disappointment etched on his face. “The elves will better control the balance of the island.” Tiranis reared in anger at the mention of the vile elves, but the groundling continued unhindered. “That is why I gave the stone to them and not to you.”
Tiranis plunged her tail into Munkus’ chest. The leonal groundling closed his eyes and accepted his death. He was content in the knowledge that he would not have to serve the foul Tiranis any longer. The dragon leaned in to Munkus’ ear. “My mother’s venom caused paralysis, but I am not my mother.”
Munkus pushed the dragon’s face away. “What madness is this?” He felt himself dying, yet he did not die. A piece of the groundling died, and it was replaced by the desire to do the dragon’s bidding. Munkus the groundling protector was dead; in his place stood Munkus, the undead servant of Tiranis.
Tiranis laughed. “You will serve me now and forever. Together we will get back the Heart of Carinth.”
Munkus bowed before the dragon and whispered, “As you command, my queen.”