Sherm and Bundy: Tomorrow’s Trepidation

Series Story Sherm and Bundy II

A Short Story By brian francis 8700 words

The Village of Hemm, was a nice little place made up of kind and welcoming people.   The tavern was the center of the community and the evening before saw a constant coming and going of people.  The food was passable fair, although, there was an herb or spice that was strange and different in some dishes.  While the map on the tavern wall in Hemm was old and out of date as far as the many no longer existing small kingdoms go, the trails, and lay of the land had not changed. So, this morning found Sherm and Bundy eating breakfast while absorbing the map hanging in front of them.  His father had made him learn maps when he was young, studying them and then being made to redraw them sometimes a week later.  His punishment for mistakes was having to move the wood pile from one side of the lean post to the other side.  He learned fast that mistakes were not good.  The map on the wall in front of him was much larger than any he had studied before, although it really only covered the highlands and the steppes.  After a morning of study and one very long meal Sherm was sure he had it.  It was time to go.

After settling up with Cam, the tavern owner/barman he carried his gear out to the stable.  He brushed Tomorrow’s coat and mane and inspected her shoes while giving her a couple carrots and apples.  He also took the time to braid and bind her tail the way a knight had once showed him.  Tomorrow was turning her neck and stretching to watch what Sherm was doing with an uncomfortable look in her eyes.

“Don’t worry girl” he told her while finishing up, “this will be a good thing if we will be running into brush and find ourselves having to break trail.”  A wink and a gentle smack on the rump signaled the end of the process.  Although, the horse was still staring at her rump and swinging her tail that now more resembled a club. She did not appear convinced.

With her bridle and saddle on, she lost interest in watching her new club, but she did end up whacking Sherm in the head a time or two with it while he checked and cleaned her feet.  Their path was to continue down the road a mile or so more, before finding the trail that leads to Fernrug which sat among the headwaters of the Fernrug river. 

The beauty of the forest of the steppes was amazing, there are trees in some places that act as a lean-to and are called traveler’s trees.  There is often a small fire pit and bedding area beneath those welcoming bows, Sherm always imagined it like a little one finding refuge within the skirts of their mother. Taking the time to gather some wood and cleaning the area under the bows a sign of respect to Gaea and an ode to the lessons of his father.  “Always leave any place better off than you found it” Sherm remembered him saying often.  He had often traveled into the ring with his father, a happy time where he learned that there was a scary truth to the legends and stories of other races – of the magical races.  

Dwarfs were a serious folk who found humans annoying at best and an eternal enemy at worst.  His father had been respected by the neighbors around where Sherm had grown up.  One of the few guides who regularly led travelers into the ring.  But in the ring, he was truly loved and admired it was something about his bluntness that they liked so much.  That bluntness found during service to the crown of South Rim and Fenghorn. Father had rarely spoken about his days of service.  What little information Sherm had gathered growing up was by overhearing stories shared by the fire when all thought he was asleep.    He had heard hero’s stories and funny episodes that friends often remember most vividly.  At times it was hard not to start and jump when listening, or even worse holding back laughter at something his father had experienced. 

Evenings when traveling were a time to think and reminisce.  Bundy had taken up standing on an overhead branch her head tucked over her shoulder, while Sherm was cooking a squirrel over the small fire and reminiscing.  The air was cool but not cold in the night and the fire being so small cast a dim light among the branches. Tomorrow was fed and hobbled just outside the branches with her head poking in enough to see. 

All day he had watched for the forest’s foods and his eye and the forest had not let him down. Fresh onions and garlic as well as a nice chubby squirrel and some berries.  He also had his father’s seasoning pack. A collection of small pouches with herbs and salt and pepper berries. The squirrel was taken with his bow and it was a shot worthy of a witness, but only Bundy saw his arrow take it mid leap between trees.  Hanging by a string and spinning by the fire the seasonings and herbs and the delicious smell of crisping meat made his belly growl as he bent a green stick into a hoop to stretch the skin to preserve it.   

With dinner eaten and his bed laid out sleep overtook him quickly.  He stirred when some wolves began their howling contest.  They were both miles away and sleep drifted upon him once again. The chirping of birds drew him away from the contented comfort of sleep. 

It had been a restful night and the berries made for a tasty breakfast.  After only a few hours he finally came upon the cliffs of Yaredann one thousand feet sheer with unpredictable and strong winds.  The trail led to a path down the escarpment; a ledge carved directly into the cliff face barely five feet wide.

Tomorrow, seemed very concerned about the edge and hugged the wall tightly. While Bundy, bothered by the winds and height burrowed into Sherm’s tunic with only his head sticking out watching their decent into the valley below.  In the distance, Sherm, could see a storm falling into the valley like a water fall making a layer of clouds that hung low as they spread out below them.  The smells were changing too, from a musty deep forest odor to an almost flowery smell like a great meadow of wild flowers in early spring.

The thousand-foot descent took almost forever as the path crossed the face back and forth, there were places where the ledge narrowed due to erosion and collapse.   Also places where repairs had been made in the past. Only once in the descent was Sherm concerned about the way ahead, as half the ledge had fallen leaving a scant two feet or so for passage; for Tomorrow, too scant a passage for sure as the horse stopped and refused to even approach the damaged area.   Worst of all, they were just above the tree tops rising from the valley below. 

Sherm unsaddled Tomorrow and carried the saddle, gear and bags across to safety even Bundy wanted to stay across, to sit and watch the spectacle of Tomorrow’s stubborn refusal from the safety of the far side of the washout. She stood on the saddle horn and watching head bobbing and wings outstretched screaming encouragement and laughing uncontrollably.

When it finally seemed, he’d get the horse across she’d rear and toss herself backwards.  But he finally was able to get her back to the narrow remnant of the ledge, Tomorrow started to drop her haunches, he got ready for her to rear but instead she leapt forward and cleared the opening.  Sherm’s footing slipped away and he slid back over the side, Bundy screaming took to the air following after Sherman

As he looked into the sky, he saw Bundy come flying down screaming like a banshee, he hit an outcropping about halfway down, and tumbled down a crease in the rock to the bottom where he landed on his back with a loud thud. 

Bundy landing near his shoulder called his name and prodded him.  Sherm could hear Bundy, but Bundy seemed so distant and the darkness was swallowing him.  Then he heard her sorrowful cry, and a sadness, and a sense of failure settled on him as the light faded completely.

                                                  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Off and on Sherm thought he could hear people around him.  It was like coming awake while someone speaks to you, only he couldn’t seem to wake up.  His mouth had a horrible taste mixed with the taste of blood.  Finally, a feeling of contentment washed over him as he realized Bundy was cleaning his eyes.  The first time she decided to clean the sand from his eyes it had scared him a bit, but she was gentle and even cleaned each of his eye lashes.  He could feel the warmth of her tongue in the corner of his eye dabbing him then she was done and as always, she finished with a long kiss on the lips. 

“Master, Master, his lips moved.” Screamed a young boy.  “The bird was touching his mouth and I think he kissed at it.”

The bird was strutting around on Sherm’s chest, wings extended and crown raised while making a loud cry when the voices returned.  He could see her in his mind celebrating in her uniquely Bundy way. 

Every day he seemed more and more awake and aware.   There were three people around him two men and a boy.  Finally, another voice came into the room.  He was touching Sherm and examining him and chanting in a strange language. Light began to appear in Sherm’s eyes his vision was returning.  It seemed the next few days were filled with chanting and touching until he opened his eyes. 

As a monk entered the room he smiled as his eyes met Sherm’s.  “That friend of yours is a bit of a bully when it comes to people touching you.  He has bitten me three times and I think he is planning on a few more.” Said the monk his gaze locked on Sherm. “Ahh that is it a smile.  That makes me feel good.  I wasn’t sure I’d see you before I left for Fernrug.  Your friend told me your name was Sherm he also had a few choice words — some I hadn’t heard in years.  That bird appears to spend too much time in taverns learning insults.” The monks face was soft and gentle his eyes an almost yellow shade of green with a dark halo, his head seemed to project forward from his shoulders and his smile seemed almost verging on a hardy laugh.

Brother Prem, as Sherm came to know him, stayed and talked to Sherm for an hour or so.  He explained how a local man had witnessed his fall and had transported him to help.  Luck was on his side as he had landed on soft brown dirt rather than rock. Precautions were taken to not disturb his body too much as the man who was named Vin was a logger and charcoal maker who was heading out to his charcoal pile in his wagon when it all happened. 

Vin had loaded Sherm into his wagon even retrieving his horse and gear.  He was surprised by the fact that the bird had climbed up on the horse’s head, one ear in each foot, where his leaning would seem to cause the horse to turn.   And they followed Sherm in the wagon the bird occasionally flying up to Sherm and trying to waken him.  She would also spend time attending his wounds to the point that Brother Prem thought Vin had cleaned some of the wounds and the wound margins.  Sherm also learned that Vin stopped by often, where he would sit with Sherm and Bundy and talk.  He and the bird had developed a nice relationship Bundy had trained him well on the proper way to pet a bird.  She had trained everyone well and had earned the title Chancellor.  Much to the chagrin of the of the temple’s real Chancellor.

At some point he must have fallen asleep because the next time he woke he remembered it being night and Bundy was there this time, standing on his chest sleeping.  He coughed and Bundy woke to see his eyes open and proceeded to make such a racket as she spread her wings and raised her crown feathers to dance on Sherm’s chest.  It hurt, but it also felt so good to see Bundy strut dancing and screaming. It didn’t take long for the Brothers to be awakened and come running.  As the room filled with monks and other temple workers all roused by Bundy’s joyous celebration, he heard Brother Prem’s voice telling everyone to go back to bed and let him do his work. 

Soon it was just Sherm, Brother Prem, Bundy and the boy.  “Rag, come over here and see if you can hold Bundy while I treat Sherm.”  Sherm was surprised when the boy snatched Bundy up like a chicken but, was unable to speak for some reason; no matter how he tried.  Amazingly, Bundy, did not scream or bite the boy but he could tell by sounds Bundy was making that a bite might still come.  The chanting and touching continued even into his dreams.

Rag was there when he woke again sitting on the bed petting Bundy, as he stood on Sherm’s chest.  “Such a pretty bird” Rag said as Sherm came awake.  Sherm could feel the weight of Rag’s hand on Bundy’s back in his chest.  It wasn’t a pain but it almost was and while the pain in his body seemed to be getting better, the discomfort involved in his short times awake, tired him rapidly and he tended to stare at the weird stain on the ceiling of the room a monster looking shadow like stain. 

It seemed like a weird dream, the way his waking and falling away again would occur.  His dreams were still his dreams, so often of big boats and an ocean.  Neither of which he had he ever seen apart from images drawn in books.  It was strange how the shadow monster seemed to be stalking him in his dreams.  He remembered the last time he was haunted in his dreams.  On a trip into the ring with his father, sent to the Orcan town of Jiddow with a message.  While there his father went to a celebration, leaving Sherm in the rooms to wait for him.

A knock on the door and Sherm found himself being told to follow the guards waiting in the hall.  He too was taken to the celebration, where he saw his father sitting on a dais with a very large and boisterous ogre wearing a crown.  He stood in the back of the room and watched as toast after toast were offered to honor the king and Sherm’s father.  It was the first time Sherm really understood how respected his father really was by some people or at least some ogres.   Sherm was around eight and he idolized his father, often just watching him and trying to do all things in imitation of him and his ways.

Even when he was only eight, Sherm, could throw a knife or even a light battle ax and he could handle his short sword respectably, But the swords carried by the guards leading him appeared to weigh more than his whole body and one had a battle ax whose blade was as wide as his leg was long.  Ogres seemed nice enough, yet, their gruff speaking and loudness took some getting used to.  Standing there he was imagining why they had made him come from his room, he stood watching the crowds at the tables, mostly ogres but there were also men and others there too.

He was led around the wall to the foot of the stairs leading onto the dais; where he was told to go to his father.  He ascended the stairs and the boisterous crowd took note with some comments better left unrepeated.  When his father turned to him and motioned him to come to his side. 

“A glass of watered wine for the boy” cried the king in a drunken voice.  People rushed to fulfill his command.  Soon a goblet was set before him.  “To the boy!” Said the king, and all raised their drinks in concurrence.  “Come here boy I want to see you.” Said the king waving his hand and beaconing with his expression.  His father nudged him over, and the king took him by the arm and pulled him close; where he took a great sniff before declaring the boy a delicious smelling morsel. 
Sherm was tempted to look to his father but resisted knowing that no expression would be readable on his face.  That is the way his father always was when surrounded by others. 

“I want a taste Uncle.  Can I have the arm.” An orc stepped from the shadows and approached.

“Stop, he is my guest, besides take note of the placement of his hand now,” said the king.  Where a moment ago Sherm’s arms where at his side he was now standing with his hand on his sword’s hilt and had it in a ready position.   In all honesty, he had not even thought about it, his father’s training was fully engrained in his person.   “Always be at the ready when uncomfortable, listen to your inner self when it speaks.” 

The king’s hand was raised and there were guards looking like mastiffs awaiting command.  “I think they would be more comfortable if you would drop you hand to your side” he stated in a whisper before again addressing the crowd.  “Did you see him he is his father’s son.  Threatened, and he prepares to bite.  Standing here beside a king he dares to take a weapon in hand without fear or concern for the loyal guards.”  He reached over and poured out the goblet of watered wine and had it refilled with mead from his own bottle.  “He is a man in this court’s opinion and he shall be treated with the respect and honor do him.” The king raised his goblet and all followed suit. 

Sherm raised his glass and drank a gulp of the sweet delicious syrupy brew.  His glass never emptied and he drank from it with vigor and zeal. 

His Father woke him in the morning with a smile on his face and a glass in his hand. The glass was a remedy for the tortured remains of his poor body, and the smile was one of rare pride.  He puked his guts out for an hour while his father recounted the evenings adventures. He was ashamed of the way he acted in his father’s rendition of the story.  But strangely his father seemed almost proud.  “the king insisted on carrying you to your bed and even settled you into it” his father said with another beam of pride flashing from him. 

 At some point the darkness surrounding Sherm started to fade the dreams became more distant.  His awake time became longer and longer.  The treatments from Brother Prem had worked wonders and he was soon out of bed and sitting by a window.  He discovered that not only had he been asleep for a long-time, winter was ending and he just woke from last year’s early fall. No pun being intended in the thought.  A smile played on his lips.

From his window he watched the days pass.  Rag was everywhere, and often, he had Bundy on his shoulders proud as he could be, walking the gardens or the wall with Bundy.  Just a whistle and Bundy would fly up to his window and love him up.  Yet, she would return to Rag when he screamed for him to come. 

Within weeks he was roaming the grounds himself making acquaintances.  The kitchen women were wonderful and spoiled him with treats and special requests.  It appeared their mission was to fatten him up.  He was skinny really, really skinny; weight had fallen off of him while he was recovering.  The gardeners seemed to cherish an ear for their songs and entertained Sherm endlessly while they worked, even letting him play, along on his flute after a time. 

There was a blacksmiths shop, barn, and paddock just past the gardens, and when Sherm found his way there, he found more friends with whom he came to share his lunches, and soon after found himself working with them as he built back his strength and stamina. 

Eyeren the blacksmith was a broad stout beast of a man, his arms as large as most strong men’s thighs.  He wielded his hammer tirelessly – five pounds of pure steel striking every two seconds as his assistants maneuvered the work piece on the anvil.  Without words they worked together fluidly and unerringly pausing only to exchange one cooled piece for another fresh from the fire. 

Sherm had learned farrier training from the temple when he was growing, even forging small pieces like hinges and cutting nails.  He and Eyeren ate lunch together every day after Sherm’s daily walk into the woods.   He found his morning walks turning into rides on Tomorrow and hunting to practice his bow work.  The kitchen was always grateful for the fresh meat and it helped Sherm feel like he was pulling his weight to offer it to them.  His afternoons were most often spent at the forge shoveling, pounding, and shoeing.  In short order it was recognized that his farrier work was top notch and the number of shoeing appointments scheduled had doubled quickly. 

The work pushed his endurance and stamina to the limits but he found progress every day; shifting the hammer back and forth between left and right hands.  When Brother Prem, proclaimed him fit as a fiddle and even better, he knew it was almost time to move on.  That was when the reality of the situation hit him square in the face, he owed these people his very life.  He knew that temple fees for some things was steep and as Brother Bean would say — temple compassion can be quite expensive.   It worried him, it haunted his sleep and burdened him and soon others were noticing. 

“What is wrong with you Sherm?” It seemed was the mantra heard all day in the kitchen at the forge and in the gardens.  Finally, when he was asked that question by Rag, he all but broke down letting it all out, as Bundy and Rag listened to his explanation about his indebtedness to everyone.  His burden seemed a weight too heavy upon him.   Listlessly, he passed through a few days more.  Rag kept telling Bundy to stay, and in truth Bundy always seemed to know when Sherm needed that extra attention. But it was nice to have Rag choose to leave Bundy with him.  Rag was a good boy, his devotion to Bundy had grown and become important for both of them.  He was the ever-present attendant for Bundy, he had been trained by Bundy in the proper method of petting.  He doted on Bundy and had cared for Bundy when Sherm was incapacitated and could not. 

Finally, it dawned on him that he was able to get a set of clothes for Rag and at least help him in some small way.  He remembered his father saying “break it down and kill it by chunks — every journey is nothing more than a set of steps.”   

“Rag, is there a seamstress nearby?” He asked

Mrs. Crowner makes the robes for the temple.”

“Well, how can I find her?  Where is her home? Asked Sherm.

“It is up the road toward the village, on the right side, she has an Orcan totem in front of her house.  It looks like the hilt of that dagger on your belt, but it is really big.” Rag told Sherm his excitement in discussing the totem was apparent.

Sherm asked Rag to lead the way.  As they walked, they talked, and Rag told him his story.  It seemed a sad story losing his parents when still a baby.  Delivered to the Temple by a passerby who discovered his parents murdered laying on the ground by their wagon.  Rag was on the ground sitting by his mother and trying to wake her.  The kitchen women took possession of him and he became the pauper prince of the temple.  Growing up in a temple home, raised by so many brothers who all became honorary Uncles, loved by the kitchen women who all perceived themselves as adoptive mothers. Rag was an amazing gentle soul. 

Rag was telling the truth, the totem at her house was exactly like the hilt of his dagger.  He remembered seeing them often in the ring with his father.   His father and he, would always stop and stand before them their arms out-stretched and quote the druidic prayer of submission to nature as was the tradition within the ring. 

Rag’s eyes were wide with surprise as Sherm honored his father by continuing the traditions he had taught.  A smirk of a smile flashed across his lips as he finished and studied Rag who stood in his periphery looking amazed if not a bit confused.  Sherm stepped forward and bowed, touching his forehead to the totem for a moment before stepping around the totem and heading for the house.

Awed and dumfounded Rag slowly following, he moved toward the door and found it opening as he approached.   “Greetings my friend,” said an older man standing to the front of a woman smiling as broad a smile as Sherm had ever seen.  “You honor the old ways.” She said, a squeal of excitement apparent in her voice.

“Yes, I do, still I also honor the new ways.  My name is Sherm and I have been told that a fair seamstress lived here. Would you, be she?”   Asked Sherm with a wink.

“Well, we all follow the new ways, but some choose to remember the old.” Her smile grew even wider as she confirmed being the seamstress and invited Sherm in for a warm drink and conversation.  Where they sat and chatted sipping a brew of forest herbs. 

She agreed to make a nice set of clothes for Rag, and he had a hilarious ten minutes watching her fondle Rag to gather his measurements.  She didn’t have a knot string or anything she just touched him all over and he squirmed the whole time. “Take a bath before you come to gather the clothes or I will scrub you clean myself. And if I ever again see you being a dirty waif wearing my clothes, I promise you, Ragamuffin that you will regret that day until you pass the veil.”  She said to Rag, her eyes unnaturally bulging at him as she held her face just inches from his.

Rag’s eyes wide with attention, he slowly stepped backwards an inch a time.  “Yes Ma’am, I will scrub good I promise.”  His eyes lowered to the ground as he cleared the door and ran away. 

“I think he will be spending most of his time warry that you are lurking around every corner. He seemed almost scared.” Said Sherm, as Bundy went flying after the boy.

She sat back down and made some notes in her book and sipped tea for a little bit longer as they became friends.  He found her to be an amazing font of druidic knowledge.  She found him, to be curious, and she predicted a promising future for him.  Giving her an extra four silvers for the clothes for Rag was a generous amount, and a boon for her and her husband.

A goodbye hug became a clandestine measuring session. She tried to conceal her touching of Sherm, yet, she found reason to lay her hands on him, though far less aggressively.  He knew what was going on, she was going to make him something too.  Her kindness warmed Sherm and solidified his devotion to their newly found friendship.

When Sherm left he found Bundy and Rag waiting up the road behind a tree, “Can ya tell she is a witch!  She scares me silly.  I swear, I’ll never again go there.” Rag stated in a matter of fact tone.

“Really,” inquired Sherm.  “How do you figure on retrieving your new clothes?” Sherm’s eye brows raised in the querying way of Brother Bean.  “Hmmm.” He almost broke out laughing at himself as he realized his imitation and saw himself through his younger self’s eyes. 

“Awe Sherm, you could do it for…” he stopped his plea as soon as he looked and saw the raised eyebrows.  Sherm understood him better in that moment.  Rag like him was roving through life as he did at that age, like he still was and would be until the veil was parted. 

“You’ll go with me, won’t you?  I’m gonna scrub myself pink and barrow an acolyte’s robe to wear on that day. But I won’t go inside again, oh no I ain’t gonna go there again — ever again, after anyways.”  A sternness etching his face with resolve.  He started back out for the temple walking hard on the ground.

Sherm followed remembering being that age and the fun and challenges he faced.  In many ways he was very much seeing himself in Rag.  Both were community raised and the temple played a huge part in his becoming the person he was becoming.  Sure, he had a father, and a home, but his father was drawn away from home for many months at a time.  The temple and the community around Schism were his family and so many lessons were learned from those neighbors.  He had watched as Rag seemed always ready to lend a hand in accomplishing temple tasks.  Whether the garden, or kitchen, helping the acolytes, or any of the tasks at hand in the community, Rag was always in attendance and helping.   He remembered that feeling left after finishing a task.  Pride, yeah, he thought; pride, now that is a powerful gift.

When the day came to retrieve Rag’s new clothes, he was waiting outside Sherm’s room at the crack of dawn.  Barley able to grab a couple of apples for breakfast; Sherm was all but herded up the road.  With Rag hiding behind the totem and peering like a cornered and scared racoon, Sherm approached the door after showing his respects to the old ways, it opened without a knock and the smiling face of his favorite seamstress greeted him with an embrace of warmth.  As she welcomed him into the house, she stepped again to the door and stated that no clothes will be leaving the house until tried on and approved.  Turning back to Sherm she motioned him to a table set with a plate of cookies and a kettle. 

By the time they made the temple it was around noon meal and the forge was banked and the billows were quiet.  Eyeren, and the men were gathered at the makeshift table out under the awning in the front of the forge area, Retch and Deworont the forge boys had brought a couple loaves of bread from home, with Eyeren’s sliced, wide sausage, a spicy almost sweet delicacy, he had shared with Sherm on many occasions, there were wonderful sandwiches waiting. 

“Come on Sherm, I made ya three sandwiches.  Retch stated, both he and Deworont, beaming with pride.  “It’s Eyeren’s birthday and Grandma sent some wonderful loaves.  The sandwiches were wonderful although two would have been more than enough for him alone.  

Sherm whistled for Bundy while gathering a sample of the offerings onto the dining cloth waiting for him.  When Bundy showed up, he wrote a note and letting Bundy take it in his beak, Sherm, told the bird to go to Rag.  Then he turned and sitting on a log he shared in the meal at the table.  The olives and apple slices created a wonderful contrast to each other; the sandwich was delicious. Not only the sausage but a sharp cheese was also giving its flavor, but it was the mustard and horseradish and herbs that cleared the ears and tightened the scalp making the sandwich a masterpiece. 

As Sherm finished his first sandwich Rag showed up with a large sack.  “Ah, so there you have it the finest Great Circle honey to finish the loaves with and savor our wonderful lives.” Said Sherm, smiling at the expressions evident on all the eager faces.   Happily, Rag was hungry as always and agreed to share in the bounty and eat Sherm’s final sandwich.  The honey bread went over well as it always does.  After all, who doesn’t like honey?  And the idea that the honey came from inside the ring seemed as exciting a thing for them all. 

Yet, this all emphasized Sherm’s problem.  He offered his honey and it was devoured with great pleasure and excitement.  He had nothing else of any value.  Eyeren announced that he had engaged a contract to supply hinges for some new Realm offices, being constructed in Fernrug, about forty miles away.  Eight sizes of hinges would be required and the three hundred door rings. Eyeren had taken the contract because he had watched Sherm working the smaller forge and making hinges rather quickly.

Eyeren decided, with all of them working at it, they could finish making them within a month. 

Sherm knew he had to stay for at least one more month. Eyeren deserved the profit from the order and his excitement was evident in his joyous hug filled celebration.  The bear hug Sherm received finally broke the knot in his back that had bothered him all week.  With a loud crack and Sherm’s guttural groan Eye’ gently settled Sherm to the ground.  “Oh, thank you Eye’ my back has been needing to be cracked.”  Eyeren looked at Sherm and asked him if he’d hurt him. 

“I’m sorry Sherm, I forget how badly your body was hurt, I truly did not mean to do so.” Eyeren said sorrow drenching his voice.  

“I am fine Eyeren — it actually feels better now than it did while we ate.” 

    The next twenty-six days were tiring and yet there was a buzz of excitement.  The men were looking forward to the extra monies they were earning.  Them getting that money was important to Sherm as he saw it as a sort of payback for their kindnesses.  “Another step Pops, just as you taught me.”  Said Sherm to no one.  

Sherm announced his intentions to be leaving for Fernrug at the forge during noon meal.  They all seemed saddened by the news and expressed their wish that he should stay; each in their own way.

He went hunting one last time for the kitchen and dropped a bull elk one hundred yards from the forge. He called for help and hung and broke it down into easily carried pieces which the boys carried to the kitchen.  He gave the hide to the gardener who had requested some skin to make leather out of to cover the handles of his tools.  This large hide would last him years for covering his tools with the wetted woven leather straps as he liked so much.   The offal was placed into a cloth bag and given to Eyeren for sausage. 

In the evening Brother Prem came to visit him in is room.  He had been talking to Rag about Sherm’s perceived problem of indebtedness.  Sherm was surprised as a man could be when Brother Prem turned the tables on him.  Tossing a bag of coins on the window table he told Sherm that the temple was sorry that this was all they could offer him for all of his efforts to assist the temple. 

“What do you mean Brother, I owe the temple,” after all he learned young that temple compassion was pricey.   “I was cared for while I was unable to even talk for months.” Sherm’s face showed his confusion and discomfort.  Tears filled his eyes as he continued, “They fed me and they cleaned my messes. How can I accept this sack? How can I hold my head up and be a proud man with this debt hanging over it?”

“Sherm, I know that you are a proud man and I understand how you view your debt to all of those who have helped you.  But you seem to forget, all – you – have done to help all of those you have helped.  We all have been eating like kings from your bow.  The kitchen has sharp knives and then there is Rag he is dressing like a young noble and trying to imitate you – yes you.  He sees a man that is honorable and one who easily earns the respect and love of others.  No Sherm you have touched every soul here with your kindness and I consider your time here a blessing for us all.

  Brother Prem cocked his head to the side and asked if he thought the coin was too much.  He offered a second sack instead, a smaller one that did seem more appropriate to Sherm and they exchanged sacks.   The smaller sack contained some larger coins and dumping them onto the table he realized that the smaller sack was filled with gold coins and too ruby gems.  “What is this?”

“I suspected you would refuse to take the copper and silver coins, so I made that sack to out play you.  Yes, it is the higher value, but it is still fair to all.” Brother Prem announced and smiled wide. “The Chancellor insisted you receive fair payment. The kitchen, the repairs, your help in the aviary have all made this place a better home.  Your care during the time of injury is a blessing and it was offered free of charge at the time, even though you think that is not fair.” He said cocking and tilting his head forward, he smiled a strange little devious smile and continued “Chancellor Vernew, absolutely insisted that the amount be exactly what was in the smaller sack.  So that is now settled.  I would like to personally thank you for all of your help to me.  I have never delved so deep into repairing the human body as I did for you.  I have submitted my request for testing in Flowers, and I hope to be able to teach soon after.   You see, I was unsure of my vocation before you first came here.  I now know what the path will be.” He smiled a teary smile, his eyes flooded with tears.  “Thank you”

There are times to fight and times to sit down and shut up.  Sherm recognized this as one of the latter and lowered his eyes and opened his ears.  “Perspective”, he thought, one of the lessons of his childhood.   Everyone has one and they are often different.  He let the situation sink in and realized the kind thing to do was to just say thank you. 

It is a strange thing to be regretful of a windfall, yet he was and it stung a bit.  He spent the rest of the evening packing his few belongings and getting ready for the last day. His visits to the kitchen staff and the gardeners and caretakers were teary and mournful yet again he found himself leaving friends and heading out to the world.  The last stop at the temple was with Eyeren and the boys.  They had made him a dagger and they were very proud of it.  They explained that they folded in carbon and continued folding for fifty-two folds before forming the blade.  It was polished and you could see the lines of the folded metal. Its sound spoke of a well-tempered piece and its weight and balance were perfect.  They had spoken of knives and leg sheathes like his father wore during noon meal on occasion. This knife came with a wonderful sheath in the style of a warden of the forest.  And on the sheath were the words “FRIENDS FOREVER” carved in silver inlay.

Eyeren had told Sherm that they had some things to settle before he could leave.  There were finances to be discussed.  That meeting was as bad as the first with Brother Prem.  Eyeren had a pile of coin set on a table that he insisted was fair pay for the many hours spent at the forge.  Sherm relented, yet again.  Adding these new coins to his sac he shared an embrace and a good slap on the back. 

“Damn Eyeren are you trying to brake me again so I have to stay or what?” Asked Sherm with a playful lilt in his voice.

“I hadn’t thought of that.  Come on over here I want one more hug.” Eyeren announced spreading his arms wide and advancing on Sherm.  

Sherm quickly drew his new knife and said “Back off big boy before I geld ya with my fine new knife,” his smile broke into a full laugh and Eyeren joined in as they came together once again for an embrace. 

Finding Tomorrow enjoying a bag of oats and a brushing by Rag, Sherm went to his saddle and slid five gold coins into the secret places built into it.  There were already silver coins there but gold ones were a better save. 

Rag had suffered a spell of crying and sorrow on that final evening and had disappeared first with Bundy which caused some concern among the brothers.  But by dark Bundy was back in the room in which, Sherm, had been staying.  Rag on the other hand was still missing the following morning.  So, finding Rag brushing Tomorrow was a blessing, because Sherm would not have been able to leave otherwise.

“Boy but it has been a busy morning. I sure appreciate your being here to help me get ready.” Sherm said cautiously, not wanting to trigger another scene like last night. 

“I am going with you or after you it is your choice.  I can help care for the animals and you.  I will not stay here, though I fear being alone in the world, I will follow you alone if I must.”  Rag stated in an as-a-matter-of-fact way as anyone could, he must have practiced that speech all night.  It left little wiggle room and Sherm felt cornered; but in a good way.  Brother Bean had on many occasions uttered the wisdom of always being open to helping others.  In this way we can find ourselves.  Besides he’d been expecting this situation and considering it for a week.  Rag had been tossing around clues for the last month.

“Okay Rag.” Sherm replied, resignation apparent in his tone and demeanor. Going about preparing his gear, he watched out of the corner of his eye and noticed with satisfaction, an air of confusion in his little ruffian. 

“But, but really Sherm? Really?  I can come with you.”  Stammered Rag his excitement tempered by disbelief. 

“Yes Rag, I agree with your assessment and accept you as a companion for the trail. The only thing we need to work out is the danger out there.” Sherm said raising his arm and pointing into the wilderness.  “I need you to accept that I am in charge. I also need you to agree to obey my decisions, and do as you’re instructed. “

“Of course, I will, you are the boss!” Stated Rag his excitement building like a runaway water mill.   “I have everything ready in the hay loft, I’ll toss it down.”  Squealing he scurried up the ladder and tossed everything he owned in the world down.  Two sacks one the sack with his new clothes and a smaller one with his treasures.  Almost nothing and one of the happiest people Sherm had ever met.

“Rag, I want you to protect and care for Bundy.  I’ll teach you other responsibilities as we learn together.  My father was one of the best woodsmen and trailblazers in the ring I will teach you everything I know, everything he taught me as long as you remain a man of integrity; I swear to be your loyal companion.” It was a fumbling speech but it served the purpose he’d intended.

“Oh, Sherm I do, to… I’ll…” he stuttered tears running down his freckled cheeks –“I promise to be worthy of your trust and friendship.  I do. I really do.” He said looking into Sherm’s eyes with a tear-filled look of determined resolve. 

Sherm stepped forward and dropped to one knee before Rag and embraced him. “Of course, you do. Now what more do we need to fit you out. Hmmm.” Said Sherm thinking. 

The next few hours were a series of gifts for Rag and a generous sharing of resources drawn from the recesses of storage.  Rags two bags, became a highlander’s back pack and a fine leather over coat in the style of the forest people. The brothers tried to all give him something useful but at some point Sherm needed to put a stop to the process as Rags new possessions were outweighing Rag.  

Sherm decided to visit Vin on the way out of town.  It was Vin who rescued him and transported him to the brothers and the possibility of life again.  He had thanked Vin a thousand time and always “it was nothing” with that damn wave of the had to dismiss him. 

They left the stable walking Tomorrow up the road toward willow rise where the lane to Vin’s homestead was located.  Upon arriving at Vin’s, they found him black as night from the charcoal he was shoveling. 

“Beware a Nightshadow!” screamed Sherm drawing his new dagger and comedically holding it in front of him.   

“I had heard you were leaving and had hoped not to miss saying good life to you.” Vin said through a big smile of white teeth.  “I will miss our talks. I will cast remembrances into the wind to honor you. I will truly, truly miss your presence and face.” Said Vin sincerely. Feigning a tear and wiping it away on his forearm, only to get the black powder in his eyes.  Screaming for water and groping the air he laughed and cried. 

Rag jumped into action and led Vin toward the water bucket.  While he cleared his eyes, Rag mimicked his blind groping and Bundy strutted on the top rail of a fence, crown raised and wings half extended. “What in the fairy laced world is going on here Vin screamed.  You let the sapling there mock me and the damn bird too.  What I have and call friends.”     He said stepping out of his cover-alls and throwing his arms around Sherm who shared the embrace.   

“Come to the house and share a tea with me.  Boy, take Tomorrow, remove his bridle and give him some hay and water from the barn over there.” Vin told Rag before turning to walk away.

“Yes Sir, Vin.” Said in an official tone that Sherm was not totally convinced was sincere.

“I wanted to be rid of him for a while – because – well because, Sherm, the boy is as naïve as they come.  And it is a big responsibility that you need to be sure you are ready for, he is not like you and me, he’s always just roosted in the temple and they all catered to him even worse than they catered to you.” The look of sincere concern was evident in his almost clean face.  It stirred Sherm’s heart to hear the concern for both he and Rag emanating from Vin.

“Vin, I know what I’m doing, and I recognize the dilemmas that could arise.  But, remember, I was a temple rat too.  I know him, he is the splitting image of my best friend, growing up, in heart and soul.  I know him, I have known others just like him.  And I promise to do my part to help him become himself. Besides he did not leave me much wiggle room; it was either with me or following me.” Sherm said shrugging his shoulders and spreading his hands palms up.

“Well, I could sit on him a week to let you get away.” Vin said signaling to Sherm to check the door.

No sooner than the words were out Rag stomped into the room glaring. “Oh no you won’t Vin I’ll stick ya if I have to, I WILL!” Rags look of defiance could have been a study for a great statue of some hero somewhere.

Vin almost busted his gut laughing.  “Boy I knowed you was there, that is why I said it.  I give you both my blessing.”  He chuckled “You deserve each other.”  He said crossing over and drawing both into an embrace.   You both always have a home here – food, warmth and welcome.” The biscuits and tea were delicious.  

“So, I take it you would like to purchase a horse for Shorty here.” Vin said as they walked into one of the many horse paddocks.  Large work horses displayed their discomfort by circling the paddock, all of them eighteen hands if a finger tall.

Rags eyes looked about to pop out as he took in the monstrosities circling the paddock.  In the small area between the larger paddocks was an area with a large pony in it.  The pony was reddish brown with a shaggy black mane and a curly shock of black hair on the top of its head.

“Now that is just perfect for you, Rag!” Sherm stated excitedly, pointing at the pony.  Rag looked like he had fallen in love instantly. His expression a cross between excitement and concern.

“it looks wonderful, Sherm.  I’ve never had a horse before.   I don’t even know if I can ride it.  But it is beautiful.  Can I name it, huh, can I?”  Rag asked, his excitement winning out over his initial trepidation.

“Well, we should probably buy it first. Don’t you think?” said Sherm turning to Vin and Rag and raising his eye brows in askance.  

“I will not be able to sell it though Sherm.  I purchased him a few weeks back.  I foresaw the probability that you would be stealing our boy from us.  I wanted to give him a gift that would remind him of his home. And those of us who love him.” With those last words Vin turned to Rag and formed a smile drenched in tears.  “He is all yours Ragamuffin.  Care for him well, he is a beaut’ of a highlands pony, the largest I’ve ever seen.” His tears filled his eyes and so to did mine and Rag’s. 

Stepping up to Vin, Rag embraced him with as much love as any son could muster.  “I’ll always remember you Vin; you will always have a place in my heart.  How could it be otherwise?” Rag asked in a voice that echoed Brother Prem.  “In fact, I am going to name her Muffin, just so I am always reminded of you when I call to him.” Rag’s tears staunched with his decision of a name, but Vin’s let loose and his cheeks became streams.  They came together for a one final hug after Vin taught Rag how to saddle Muffin with all of the gear, he had bought him.  Saddle, blanket, bridle, Bags, a coil of rope a halter, bed roll and oiled coat for rain.  Rag was ready, sitting proudly on Muffin. 

As Sherm and Vin came together to say goodbye – “Vin, I will never be able to repay the debt I owe you.” Said Sherm tears again in his eyes.

“there is no debt owed me by you, I did what Gaia would have wanted.  Actually, I owe you for the opportunity you gave me to earn Gaia’s respect.  You just take care of our boy there and remember both of you have a home here, always.”   As Sherm started off, Vin stepped up and squeezed Rag’s leg, making a face that was twisted up stifling his emotions, he kissed Rag’s knee, before turning away and going to the water barrel to splash some water on his face and watch them fade into the forest.

Readers: Thank you for taking the time to read my story sincerely -bf

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B. F. O'Connor

Born and raised in the idyllic environment of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A rural paradise perfect for a roving childhood. Now living in the desert southwest, with a flock of parrots, a pigeon, and Three dogs.

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