He will show him the way he should choose.
“How long do we have before Pip tires?” Sem asked, his breath tickling her ear.
“With me, he can fly three, maybe three and half hours at a quick pace,” Sambeth replied and tugged a strand if her hair as she thought, “I don’t know how long he can go with the two of us. I’d try an hour and a half and see how he goes.”
“We need to head north,” he said.
Sambeth nodded and he noticed the shimerith adjust his direction.
The shimerith was flying along smoothly. Sem noticed the change in his flying pattern when they changed course. Before must have been a cruising speed because now, instead of an easy, undulating movement, the wing beats were much faster. The shimerith set his head and neck as straight as an arrow, dropped his shoulders a little and sped through the air.
“Keep a sharp eye out for aerial predators,” Sambeth called over her shoulder, “as well as the Fallen One.”
“I’ll watch this side,” he indicated to the right.
Sambeth scanned the sky behind, ahead and all around but still the beauty of the land falling underneath took her breath away. The sun was riding high overhead, their shadows falling straight beneath them.
Sambeth had imagined the forest was an unending, limitless expanse of trees with few breaks but now, from above, she saw that this countryside changed continually. There were vast stretches of thick, unbroken jungle but then a series of enormous meadows would unfold beneath them, dotted with many herds and different kinds of animals both familiar and unknown. She drank in the sight of gently undulating hills with beautiful clear streams springing between them.
In a low place, sat a great lake. Many streams fed into it. It was crystal clear. The shapes of big and little fish as well as large aquatic beasts were easy to see in its tranquil waters. Sambeth had never seen such a vast stretch of water. As they flew along, she and Sem pointed out to one another different, interesting things but apart from that they were silent. Each locked in their own thoughts.
Every so often, Sambeth closed her eyes and pressed a hand to her face. Pip was warm underneath her. She savoured the texture of his fur. Sem was a solid presence behind yet still she felt terror and sorrow try to engulf her and fought it back. In less than a week she had seen her mother, the only person that cared for her, killed. She lost her home, found a refuge and lost it also. She recalled Noesh’s idea to establish herself in Aresisia. That plan must stand. It was a beacon of hope, she clung to it grimly and prayed Proximus would not find her.
She felt him squeeze her arm slightly.
“We’re veering off course.”
Sem’s face was drawn. He pointed to the sun and then off in a direction different to their current trajectory. She frowned but he pointed again, leaning forward, his chin almost resting on her shoulder.
“We should be going in that direction,” he insisted.
She leaned forward and spoke to the beast.
“Pip, veer right,” she called compellingly, tapping him on the right side of his neck and holding her arm in the direction. The shimerith cocked its head very slightly, a glint from his eye reaching her. Then he straightened out again and continued without altering course.
Sambeth turned her chin. Sem bent his head close to hers in order to hear against the rushing wind.
“He’s not listening, Sem.”
His eyes narrowed in worry as he gazed down the length of the enormous creature carrying them.
“We’ve got to get to Tabun’s Cave. Ask him again,” he ordered.
Sambeth stiffened, resenting the tone, and leaned away from him. Reluctantly, she did as he bid.
“Pip, we need to change course. We must go that way.”
Greater urgency coloured her voice. This time the shimerith dipped its head in annoyance. The deadly pronged tail lashed from side to side. The two on its back clutched onto the deep fur to avoid slipping off.
“Okay. Okay, Pip!” Sem cried and the undulating of the animal ceased.
“It’s no use,” Sambeth said calmly, “once he’s made up his mind, he won’t change it. We’ll just have to trust that he’s right.”
“He’s taking us miles off our course,” Sem fumed, worry causing him to speak more harshly than he meant to, “that’s bad, bad news for us.”
Sambeth gave him an enigmatic, slanted glance from the corner of her eye. She gritted her teeth, lips set. The burn of resentment rose in her throat. She remained silent. There was no point arguing about it.
They returned their full attention to scanning the skies. They were full of birds, thousands of them. Most of them were small, flitting here and there in clouds. The bigger birds were not so numerous, but they were there, frequently. Fortunately none of them showed any interest in the shimerith flying past except to sound a faint alarm.
She glanced at Sem a couple of times as she scanned far back on her side. He looked tense. The bile in her stomach settled. He would be anxious about his family, did they live or were they dead. Being off course would be sending him over the edge. She forgave him. She would be harsh and more than that if she were in his place.
Agnor was still tucked in tightly around his master, his head thrust through the crook of Sem’s arm. Why had Agnor, the most companionable of hounds, been running in the forest alone, she wondered. She thought of Sem’s parents. They would be worried sick about him, if they were alive. Cold slashed a line down her cheek as a solitary tear slipped down and blew away in the wind of their passage.
She thrust away thoughts of Rija, who had trusted her to keep her safe. She and Rija had sworn to stay together, to be the family that neither of them had, but now Rija was far behind and Sambeth had to throw down the thought that she truly might not see her ever again.
“Are you okay?”
A voice spoke in her ear, jolting her out of the dark jag of her thoughts.
“I don’t know,” her voice was thick and clogged with unshed tears.
Sem turned her face, one finger under her chin.
“I felt that,” he said, tracing the path of that one tear.
Her eyes gazed into his, so full of fear and sorrow that his heart turned over.
He put his hand on her cheek, his long fingers curling around the back of her head.
“Trust me, Sambeth. We will be alright.”
She dashed the tears away savagely, holding her lips tight to stop them quivering.
” I’ve lost my mother and my home. And now Rija. Pip could fly away and never come back. Altor will definitely catch me one day. If I make it to Aresisia, I will be all alone.”
She twisted away, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
He looked up in front of them. Her head was so much lower than his that he saw right over the top off the gleaming strands of hair.
They both felt a shift in the shimerith, a change of pace.
“We’d better find a place to stop and rest,” she said, “Pip’s slowing a little. I think he’s tiring.”
“We need clear ground to land and to light a pretty decent fire to keep the animals away,” he replied.
“Surely that’s too visible,” she protested, “Altor could find us or the Fallen One.”
“Let’s find a clear spot to land safely and then see what we can find.”
She nodded in agreement.
Finding a clearing proved difficult. They were flying over dense forest. The trees were giants. Their trunks were massive in girth and the boughs as broad as a road. Pip began to circle making wide sweeping turns. There were no breaks among the great blanket of trees. Neither Sambeth nor Sem could see the ground through the clustered foliage.
“Is it worth landing in the trees?” Sem spoke in Sambeth’s ear.
She jumped. She’d been so intent on looking for a landing spot. Pip decided for them. He straightened up out of his curving sweep and flew onward some minutes. The shimerith snaked his head down and from side to side. Then he swooped, his passengers clinging on tenaciously. Moments later he settled gently on a narrow strip of grass beside a deep, swiftly flowing river.
A quick look around the clearing showed nothing dangerous. It was picturesque with the rushing gurgle of the river and the lush green grass.
“We won’t be able to hear much with the noise of that river in our ears.” Sambeth said.
Sem slipped off the shimerith in one smooth move. Immediately Agnor jumped down beside him.
Sambeth stroked the shimerith where the long neck joined the sturdy, muscular shoulder.
“This is a nice spot but are we safe here?”
She spoke to herself. She was busy scanning the forest beside them as well as beyond the river. She hadn’t yet dismounted.
“There are no animal tracks leading up to the water,” she called to Sem.
Sem was walking around the clearing, scanning the ground, looking around for signs of large predators, possible camping spots and food. Agnor followed one pace behind, wherever he went.
“Sambeth, I don’t think we’ll have any unwelcome visitors. I can’t see any animal signs at all. It’s a bit odd really.”
She didn’t want to leave the warm safety of Pip’s back. He, too, was highly alert. His dark eyes flickered from side to side. She noticed that his wings were not folded down, tucked neatly in their resting position. Instead they were held slightly out from his body, poised and ready for a quick lift off. He lifted his head suddenly higher, nostrils wide, sniffing the air. A tremor ran through him. Should she dismount, seeing as Pip was unsettled, she wondered?
The strong neck curved up and Pip peered around and beyond the line of tree tops.
“Sem,” she called as Pip trumpeted an alarm.
“Get down. Get off quick!” Sem yelled the urgency in his voice prompting an intense fear response in her.
Without hesitating, Sambeth slipped off Pip’s back and ran toward Sem. He raced toward her, Agnor close behind. In two heartbeats they met in the middle of the clearing. He gathered her in, against his side and pulled her back to safety. She turned back to Pip.
Pip’s whole body was taut and quivering. His eyes searched the sky. Then she saw them. Two, three, four, five shimerith flying in a V formation. They screamed when they spotted the four on the ground, whether at their fellow shimerith or because of the humans, Sambeth was unsure. Sem grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the trees.
“Come on,” he cried.
The wild shimerith banked, screaming again and this time Pip flung himself upward in one mighty thrust. The wind from the beating of his powerful wings tumbled them forward into the underbrush. They sprawled on the ground. Sambeth looked up through the tops of the tall grass waving above her. She saw the strange shimerith swerve and dip. Pip flew across their path and they altered their course and met him in the sky. For a moment they reared up, suspended in mid-air. Then as one they wheeled about and flew off into the distance. A pang of sorrow bit into her heart as she watched Pip, her shimerith, streaking off into the distance with them.
“Did he just leave us, or save us?” Sem whispered.
She turned her head, still flung out in the grass, and met Sem’s eyes. A great huff of dog breath filled her nostrils as Agnor thrust his nose in their faces, checking they were alright.
“I don’t know,” she said bleakly. Without Pip she felt vulnerable in this vast, unknown wilderness, “I must find him. I must go back and get Rija. I must–“
“Shh,” he laid a hand across her mouth for a moment.
The warm, clean smell of his skin drifted over her. He lifted himself up on one elbow and gazed deeply into her eyes.
“Sambeth, come with me,” he pleaded, searching her face with dark, intense eyes, “I swear I will take you far from here, far from Arca and all who seek to hurt you.”
She blinked and swallowed, thrown by his nearness and keenly aware that she lay stretched on the ground beside a stranger. How could she trust him when so recently the question of her heritage had caused him to recoil in horror?
She scrambled up and he leapt to his feet also. Now she had to crane her head to see his face.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said fiercely, “your family is everything to you and they have rejected me.”
“Trust me,” he urged, echoing the throbbing question in her mind, “come with me to Aresisia. Rija will be there and the people will thank you for their lives. I know it.”
He took her face in his hands, urging her to agree, “We will survive the Forest and Pip may return to you along the way.”
She swayed, caught by the intensity in his gaze. Over his shoulder she saw the last shimerith vanish out of sight. Without the shimerith, there was no choice for her. She sighed and looked back at the urgent dark eyes of the man in front of her.
“I’ll come,” she said huskily, “I’ll come with you, Sem.”
She gazed after Pip and dashed a tear from her eye. Beside her, strong and capable, stood the youngest son of the fabled Noesh. If anyone could help her escape Altor and make her way to Aresisia safely, it would be him.
They both searched the sky, willing the shimerith to return. A faint noise reached their ears. A stirring, rushing sound that was faint but quickly grew louder. It took Sambeth right back to the clearing where she shivered in terror, hidden under a prickly bush, as Altor took the Sacrifice belonging to his father. The hair on her arms rose.
“Oh no,” Sambeth whispered.
She drew back, edging her back into the foliage and crouched low until ferns nodded over her head and she was completely concealed. Beside her, Sem did the same, holding Agnor close. They kept utterly still, watching. Overhead, something rushed by, outlined by a faint glow. It was moving fast and in the direction of the vanished shimerith. Proximus, the Fallen One, searching for them. Strong fingers wrapped around her hand and held it tight until the Fallen One was gone. She glanced at Sem. Without another word they slipped back into the dark tangle of the Endless Forest.
Hello dear Reader,
Thank you for reading this book! I loved writing about this girl and plunging through the forest by her side. After the difficulty of losing her mother and finding shelter with people who abhor Earthborns, she still has no option but to flee with Sem to try and rejoin them. In the next part of the story, Sem is unable to hold off an enemy and Sambeth is taken by them. She experiences rough Qtreatment in the hands of the Panther People and their Kandace and is marked for death.
Fear of the Earthborn
In the talons of the panther…
Journeying through the Endless Forest with Sem and the faithful Agnor, Sambeth is desperate to reach the city of Aresisia where Sem’s people are. They will know if her friend, Rija, survived the Earthborn attack on the hidden fortress.
Panthers lurk in the forest as well as a people who worship the Panther spirit. They believe Sambeth is chosen by the Panther and seek her life. Suffering in their hands, Sambeth must think quickly or she will end up as a sacrifice to their god and never reach her destination.
Reviews – sharing your reading experience by posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads would be a massive assistance in getting Sambeth’s story out into the wide world and I’d be forever grateful ;).
Kind regards – Emma.
There are no reviews yet. Be the first one to write one.