Vantage Point

by Joanne Hunter

It's a very interesting place, really.

The cliff face is tall; higher than most of the trees in the area (which, all things considered, wouldn't be that difficult considering the nature of the region) but not that much higher than the distant mountains. Still, in that specific area, it's the tallest thing for a mile or so, so you get the feeling of being on the top of the world - to the East, a wide green blanket of forest, and to the West, the image of distant mountains reaching far into the sky, as far as the eye can see.

It'd always been a nice vantage point. Even armies of the past had understood that, clearly, as was evidenced by the ruins below. Low enough on the back end of the cliff towards the mountains that it was not visible to most passers-by (at least not anymore, what with the walls almost completely gone), but still close enough to the vantage point such that you could quickly get a glimpse of the world around you, it must have been a highly secure fortress. I always wondered why they just left it here, to crumble and become a mixture of dust, lichen-and-moss overgrown fallen rocks, and stacked rocks that left the impression of once-walls. Perhaps the people simply knew their time had come.

Or perhaps it was the loneliness in such a isolated spot; the loneliness that I came here to exploit.

I come here often; sometimes as whimsy dictated that I needed to see the world around me, but usually just to escape. Being the only individual capable of anything beyond the basic field dressing of wounds can oft make you a very quick celebrity in any region. In a place like Glen Avery, where the large numbers of tree dwellings meant occasional falls, and where the distance far to the North of the Keep meant occasional skirmishes with the Lutins, a skilled wound dresser alone would be overtaxed. But a herbalist with knowledge of how the flowers cultivated in small batches around the villiage could, worked and prepared properly, save a dying man or woman...

It could easily be worse, I reminded myself. You could still be back at the Keep. The memory caused a very small shudder; at the Keep, it had been far worse. The constant patrols and frequent battles with patrolling Lutins merely meant more battles for me to fight. I can still remember Coe's reaction at hearing that I was willing to help him out for a time, during a particularly pitched battle - he would have been joyously celebrating, if he hadn't been so tired.

Not that I could have left him alone when I decided to come up here, to connect with the nature that had always posessed my soul - Rosemary had learned remarkably quickly, and though she was not yet educated to the point of being able to concoct her own preparations, she knew the basic health herbal preparations backwards and forwards, which worked well enough.

...But I find myself rambling. Still... it's not something I can help. It's what I do when I'm up here, alone and reflecting on the world around me. Sitting down on the edge of one of the small outcroppings, just above the final meter and a half rock shelf just before the hundred-foot slope down, legs dangling beneath me... digitigrade, gray paws...

I can still remember my inital emotions when I discovered my new form that one morning, though I still cannot accurately identify them. Something of a mixture of joyous shock with a bit of ironic cynicism mixed in. Foxes had always grasped my attention during my travels - the keen senses, swift cunning, intimate knowledge of their world and the skill with which they moved forward in it had always facinated me. I confess that I never imagined I'd see it from this kind of perspective, though I'd oft wished I would, someday.

I could possibly call that a premonition of what would happen when we went to the Keep. Jono and I. But I never expected to find myself as anything even close to a fox, let alone the exact same species that held the greatest facination for me. Life's little ironies, I suppose.

Oh, Jono... quite the character he was. It's almost impossible not to smile as I remember our lives together. Of course, some of them weren't nearly as amusing when we were in them (that particular adventure with a renegade Kankoran comes to mind Very quickly), but such is the nature of such memories, I suppose. The man has such a talent for charm; he could easily be one of those legendary Kings of the Road, experiencing the world and defending himself with little more than his wit and his musical skill.

I'm sure Jono has told and retold the story of why we had to come to the Keep a thousand times before. It'd be just like him - the Noble Bard, crippled by the Evil Twisted Cleric of the Ecclesia, journeys to a Mystic Place for a Final Hope at restoring his Lost Talent and Skill. Makes for quite the dramatic story, if one presents it correctly.

I've never been one for drama. I can create it, for certain, but I've experienced too much drama in my life to want to create more. Besides, Jono always provided all the drama needed.

He's probably still at the Keep right now, entertaning the commoners in the tavern, singing and storytelling and performing 'magic' tricks. Not 'True' magic, of course, but feats of dexterity that often baffle the most powerful of wizards. For that reason Jono always liked calling it 'true' magic - "What magic is more true than that which fantasizes and impresses Mages of Skill and Scholary?" he'd ask - but even I tend to avoid supporting THAT claim... He'd said that on occasion he would come up here to visit. It's been a month and he has yet to, but that's hardly surprising. The cold weather would not make for a easy trip, and Jono wouldn't dare come here with any sort of cold-related illness that I could treat. He doesn't like admitting to others just how many times I've saved his life.

Of course that means that I never tell anyone else about the number of times he's saved my life. Turnabout is fair play, as he often says. Though he has an odd tendecy to disagree when it's used against him. Peculiar.

I can't help but grin as I think of him. Never a lover; but always a brother, and, as he'd say, "a truer comrade I have never Known."

Sigh. I have to admit, I miss him. I want to show him what I see here.

The view is truly exquisite. The trees are unending, spreading far, covering the whole of the land for miles in a thick, green blanket of leaves, rich and beautiful. Not a single blemish in the cover can be seen, though there are spots where it does obviously rise and fall, as though the bed were unevenly made. The imperfection of nature, though, is where I think the beauty can be seen. The small spots, the little details that show the underlying character of a once-turbulent world - the spots where perfection was marred, and where the marred spots were taken, absorbed, and incorporated into the design.

The mountains provide a stark contrast. They are as though a giant painter took up brush, and, with the sky as canvas, painted in large, sharp rock teeth, tipped with white, with whisps of clouds catching on the edges. They seem to just stand there, as a timeless and massive reminder of just how small our lives are compared to the world around us, and to show the true permanence of our world. To know that even long after we leave that these massive rock formations will still be here, still challenging the sky... it humbles a person.

Or at least it humbles me. One has to wonder if the builders and keepers of the ruined... fortress? Outpost? ...whatever it was, it does not look like it served as a vacation home... one has to wonder if those who manned this ruin were as humbled by the mountains as I am. Or perhaps they were much like the soldiers of the Keep and the guards of the Glen - stoic and single-minded, looking at the mountains and thinking only of their tactical usefulness and possible liability.

The latter is more likely; the ruins are very similar in make and design to the military outpost ruins in the valley below; some of which have since been rebuilt for use against the forces of the mage to the north. But I like to think that if not the commanders, then at least the individual soldiers who occasionally stood watch here were just as captivated by the mountains as any other commoner.

Perhaps that may have been how this ruin fell. A soldier on watch watching the mountains more than his back, thus allowing entry. But then one would think that soldiers on watch duty would not leave the fortress, or that the fortress would have a backup of some kind. Then I toss the thought aside; there is no way to know what happened (aside from magical divination, perhaps); it happened in the past, and I prefer to be concerned with the Now.

Another sigh. I want to stay here a while longer, but the sun has begun to dip low and traveling back down the worn, almost hidden path back down to the Glen at night is not exactly an enjoyable prospect, especially with Lutin patrols about. So I stand, taking a last look around, then proceed down torwards the path.

Tomorrow's probably going to be a long day.

By far the most popular herbal concoction of mine around here is a combination of rosemary and willowbark, properly prepared. Willowbark is very well known for its general healing properties, of course; the rosemary just helps enhance the effect.

It's incredibly popular, especially in the mornings, because it helps reduce the headaches and nausea and other side-effects of staying at Lars' place, drinking ale and carousing well into the night.

"Now remember, you take the capsule with a drink of water; it doesn't work without the water. And don't take too many at once-"

"Yeah, yeah, I know..." The reply isn't so much a vindictive thing as a sort of yes-Joanne-I-know-the-drill-you-don't-have-to-repeat-it-again. Morgan is usually one of the most sociable people - well, okay, bobcat - in the Glen, but you don't want to deal with him after one of those long nights.

"I know you know, hon. But I have to make sure you remember every time," I tell him. "You know how some people take it too often and get even worse..."

He interrupts me again; those headaches seem to interfere with his perception of politeness, but I'm used to it by now in the mornings. "Yeah, 'course... I'm not that dim though, you know it..."

Pressing the issue again isn't going to help either of us, obviously, so I drop it. "Okay, have a great day, see you later tonight," I say with a smile. You always smile. If you're not smiling then folks think that something is wrong, and you don't want that from a healer.

He gets up and ambles off to the door. A little shaky, but that's to be expected after such a long night. Two days back he and a few other Glen scouts managed to locate and capture an entire Lutin scouting party, and so naturally after having transported the Lutins back and securing them, they'd felt the need for some time off with Lars and his barrels. From what I'd heard it was a very difficult venture - Marcus had actually been seriously wounded, but fortunately Erica had remembered the 'first-aid kit' I'd given her before they left and so she was able to treat him well enough - I didn't even have to do much when they got back; just a simple bandage rewrap and a fresh poultice on the wound. She's taking to the business remarkably well; one of the best pupils I've ever had. Not present today though; she'd decided to celebrate with everyone else, of course, and trying to do this business when you're suffering yourself isn't exactly something I'd recommend.

Having nothing else to do, since if memory serves Angus was the last of the scouts to have gone celebrating and consequently visit me, I get up, walk over to my preparations table, get out the rosemary, willowbark and some binding powder, and start preparing a few more capsules.

(In case you're wondering, binding powder is something that we herbalists use - great stuff. It's made from a combination of a few blackberries and bits of maple leaf, crushed and mashed together, then allowed to dry, then crushed into a fine powder. When wetted it becomes sticky for a while, then it dries and holds firmly, so it makes for an ideal capsule binding substance. Rarely if ever interferes with the herbal components, and it actually makes the capsules taste somewhat better than wood bark, or so I'm told.)

I manage to get through at least eight capsules before I yawn and collapse back into a chair. Despite what you might think, herbary isn't always the sort of fun and exciting romp-through-the-woods-finding-weird-new-plants-and-see-what-happens-when-you-do-this type work. You quickly get used to just preparing the same old formuae day in and day out.

Which is why I usually don't stay here long. I put away the bark and herbs, drop the capsules into the drying bin, then quickly head over to my bedroom to pick up a few things. Climbing tunic, bow, quiver, Dad's twin daggers, herb collector's bags... getting everything on, I walk out, hanging the "The Vixen Is Elsewhere" sign on my front door, and closing it.

I manage to make it, oh, almost ten steps before I'm attacked from behind.


"Aack!" I cry out in horror. "No! Will someone not save poor innocent little me from these two ruffians?"

"Silence, we know you're working for Nasoj, we're taking you back to the holding cells with all the others!" one of the high piping voices yells - directly into my ear, actually.

"Oh no!" I cry out. "They're taking me away! Help me!"

"Don't worry!" calls out a gruff badger voice, from off to the side. "I'll save you, madam!"

And with that Angus comes 'barreling' forward - at a rather fast trot, really - and scoops up the two squirrel ruffians before they can assault me further. "Look at you two, accusing innocent Glenfolk of treachery. You should be ashamed!"

Christopher and Darien, of course, instantly become the very example of virtuous Glen warriors. "Butbut, we know she's a spy, we saws her talking with the Lutins an'an'..." Darien stammers. Christopher merely looks Proud and Tough - or at least as proud and tough as a five-year-old squirrelmorph can get.

"Yes, and I talk to Lutins too, when they're behind bars. Does that make me a spy?" Angus asks them, with a big smile on his face.

The twins digest that while I continue to lay there, stifling giggles.

"Wellll...." Christopher starts to say. "...I guess... maybe... she might be innocent..."

Angus's grin is now one of victory. "Good. Now go help the nice lady up and apologize for calling her a spy."

The twins immediately leap out of his paws and start trying to pull me up by my forepaws before Angus's words register in my head - fast little ones, they are. "C'mon ma'am, up we go, sorry 'bout the spystuff and all, reallysorry" the two start stammering.

I can't stifle it anymore - I start laughing, getting up as I do so. "It's all right. You two brave warriors were just doing your jobs and protecting the Glen; I can't hardly be ungrateful for that."

Of course they react as though I just told them that they'd saved the world. Children are such marvelous creatures... "Now you two run along and go find yourself something else to guard. I hear the top of the Great Oak is in need of two stalwart young soldie-" Before I can even finish the sentence, the two are in a mad dash for the giant oak tree near the center of the Glen, occasionally rolling over each other in their attempts to get there first.

Angus finally lets out a laugh of his own. Though he wouldn't admit it under pain of death (though pain of not being able to touch one of Mrs. Levins' famous blackberry pies might do it), he loves those two as though they were his own sons. Indeed, in a sense they are; they're the children of the entire Glen. "Did those two ruffians hurt you any, ma'am?" he asks, bowing in mock chivalry.

I can't help but giggle. "No, I am quite all right, I do thank you for your prompt rescue." Smiling.

He grins back. "That's what I'm here for. So, how was your morning?"

I shrug. "Well, you know how everyone got together last night at Lars'..."

"Ah. Say no more" he says, smiling. "Well, I need to head off to the eastern border; I'm on guard duty there for most of the morning. Will you be at Lars' tonight?" I nod, even though he doesn't need to ask to know. If I wasn't there some night I think Lord Avery would send out a search party. "Alright, see you then!" he says, turning and heading off torwards the border. I smile back as he heads off, then straighten out my tunic, check my quiver and bow, then head back off torwards another house.

Angus is a friend.

A day or two back, while he was out patrolling, Kevin discovered something quite interesting in the western wood. He quickly flew back to let me know (he's a sparrowmorph, you see), since I'd told him about various things that I'd been looking for in the area, and he thought he'd found something. When he took me there... well, it wasn't what he thought it was, but it was something almost as good. We weren't really able to collect them, though; didn't have anything appropriate to transport them back. And besides, a surprise seemed like it ought to be in good order...

I knock quietly on the door of our co-conspirator. "Hello? It's Jo and Kevin. We've come for the baskets."

The door is opened, and instantly the rich smell of blackberries fills the air. "Come on in!" Mrs. Levins says, holding the door so the sparrow and I can enter.

Of course I don't have to tell you about Mrs. Levins. I'm quite sure her blackberry pies are a legend up and down the valley. But that's not all she's capable of; she's also been known for some of the feasts she's prepared for various gatherings over at the tavern, and her cookies, though not as famous as her pies, are similarly well known here in the Glen. Lars keeps trying to get her to stay there at the tavern, but the truth is while she loves dealing on a person-to-person basis, rowdy crowds such as those at the tavern are less to her liking. But we're going to get her to attend the Unveiling anyways...

She disappears into the kitchen, returning with three large cloth-lined baskets. "I'm afraid I can't offer you any pie at the moment; it's still in the oven so you'd burn yourselves quite nastily, and that wouldn't do, would it?"

Kevin puts on his best oh-no-oh-dear-woe-is-me face. "Oh my, and here I was thinking to myself how I wouldn't be able to survive another day without just one small taste of blackberry pie..." He feigns weakness, acting as though he's about to topple over.

Mrs. Levins chuckles, and raises the spoon in her paw, as though she were about to brain the poor starving sparrow. "You little rascal. Don't worry, they'll be all done and cooled by the time you two get back."

Now it's my turn to grin. "Wonderful! I need the refresher course in how to make things taste good anyways."

She chuckles again, then sends us off with the baskets. "Off you go now! Go get as many as you can!"

The two of us head off torwards the spot in the western wood that Kevin picked out.

Now, I can't exactly mention the details of the enterprise that we've been in; it's been carefully guarded between me, Mrs. Levins, and Kevin for all this time. Not even Walter knows about it, and she lives with Mrs. Levins. If Kevin hadn't found the... well, what he found, then he wouldn't be in on it either.

But then again, if he hadn't found them, then the plan wouldn't be around to begin with... and that would be most disadvantageous indeed.

Kevin actually isn't going to contribute much to the step of the plan, after we do the collecting; he's merely the one who did the locating, and he'll probably have a final say in testing before we unveil the results. Most of the work is probably going to be done by me and Mrs. Levins; she's an acknowledged expert, and I'm sort of the newcomer who does well. We're both quite confident, however, that the final result is sure to make a lot of Glenfolk very happy indeed.

Kevin merely rambles on about how he's looking forward to his part in the next steps of the plan while I go over what will be needed for my part. Since I'm the one who handles various natural concoctions, including herbs and spices, I'm going to have to relocate a specific few and make sure they're prepared just right for Mrs. Levins to take them and work her magic (not real magic, though many a soul would swear otherwise), thus creating the fruits of our Plan. Security for the plan is going to be difficult; we're thinking of letting Walter know so she can help us with concealment, plus we'll want a nice cloth for the Unveiling. And Kevin, we think, will also do a very good job of patrolling the area so that nobody else can suddenly sneak up on us and thus defeat our efforts.

We finally get to the spot. Everything is still in good order, and they're all still there - but this time we have the baskets. We manage to collect a great deal - not too much, since we want to have some available for future works - and then begin the long journey hefting them back to Mrs. Levins' hut. Of course I knew that this part was going to be difficult, and I had considered asking Angus' help with transporting the full baskets, but though he would be happy to help the chance of good old Angus being able to keep a secret like this is about equal to the chance of a Lutin escaping his notice while he's on guard duty - in other words, close to nonexistent. So he'll have to find out at the Unveiling like everyone else.

It takes much longer, and we have to be careful that no other Glenfolk see us, but we finally make it back to Mrs. Levins' hut, with Kevin visibly exhausted from the one basket he was carrying, and me panting heavily - apparently loud enough to be heard inside, as she opens the door not three seconds after I get there. She takes one look at the baskets and her face lights up like a magic fireworks display. "Ohh, those will be marvelous! They'll do just perfectly! Quickly, let's bring them in!" She takes one of the baskets from me - thank Kammoloth, I would probably have lost an arm if I kept carrying them - and we quickly take our loot into the hut. After making sure they're secure, I take a moment to catch my breath, then head over back to my home to get the necessary herbs and spices so we can continue with the Plan.

It's still definitely going to be a long day, but it's going to be a fun one as well...

It isn't until mid-afternoon that I finally get back from Mrs. Levins' hut, after such long work on the Plan. Everything is prepared now, and we even got a large and thick cloth from Walter to help conceal the results. Kevin's perched himself on the rooftop, making sure nobody gets too close, so I don't see any reason to stay over there; it'd merely attact suspicion anyways.

Erica's there when I get in. "Hiya Jo, where've you been?"

I smile wearily at the (cervine, not lapine) doe. Tired still after working on the Plan. "Woodscraft 'n such. The same as usual." Not even Erica knows, and I'm not about to tell her until after the Unveiling.

Something about the look in her eyes seems to indicate that she's not so sure if I'm being honest with her, but, thankfully, she doesn't press further.

"So, how'd this afternoon go?" I ask her.

"Well, I got in just before midday; we had three folks from this morning come in for a second of the Will'o'Mary; I gave them each a capsule from the current storage pack, not the drying bin." The Will'o'Mary is basically the same thing I'd been giving out that morning; it's just the willowbark/rosemary capsule.

"Good..." I look outward, checking the sun's position... just low enough... "The ones in the bin should be done now-"

"Oh, I noticed," she says. "I already took care of them. Was just cleaning up afterwards when you came in."

I smile. She *is* learning very quickly. "Okay, great. Anything else happen? How's Marcus doing?"

"Marcus is doing just fine; I checked the bandage and I think it's okay for now, though it'll have to be checked again shortly. Parris got herself a nasty bump on the head while sparring today; that just required a small icepack though." Parris is a mouse; one of the youngest here. She hit puberty very recently, and joined the scouts not two months back, along with Kevin. "Jeremy managed to get a nasty bee sting while on guard duty; I used one of the silverleaf and birch extracts for that, if you don't mind..."

"No, that's all right; that's what they're for." Silverleaf is extrodinarily rare, but nothing else is better against venoms, like those in bee stings. The poor skunk kept on attracting them somehow; I'd been spending spare time trying to formulate a concoction to keep them off. "Anything else?"

"Nope, other than that it's been quiet. Busier than normal, but.." She smiles and shrugs. "Glad I didn't have *too* much last night..."

"Heh. Needing any rest?" I don't want to overwork her, after all...

"No, I'm fine. You look like you could use some though..."

"I'll be all right" I quickly reply. "I was just stopping by to grab a thing or two anyways."

She gives me a look that seems to say «yeah right Jo, sure, I believe you», but doesn't press the issue.

Erica and I both live in the same spot here - me in a room underground, her in a small house just underneath the tree's roots. The front door is just below the root system of the tree above; just inside is the front room where we see patients. In the back there's the preperation room where we create the various concoctions, and two staircases - one going up to her room, the other going down to mine. Since I'm not here to go through her living space, I head down the latter staircase.

There's a door just at the bottom; I open it. Home sweet home.

I don't have much in the way of furnishings - just a nice soft rug woven by Walter out of grasses, my bed, a chair and desk for when I'm taking notes, a large closet with my clothing and bow and quiver, and a bookcase with most of my notes and references. Most folks who visit are often caught off guard by two things - the lack of any pictures on the walls, and that I have my own bookcase. We don't really have a library per se in the Glen - tragically, most of those few books that were here before didn't survive the last attack - and so bookcases are something of a rarity. Still, since I am a herbalist, folks don't stay surprised for long.

Oh, and there's also the bull's-eye target mounted on the far wall, with an arrow or two in it. It's something to do when I wake up late at night. The <thunk>s never seem to wake Erica up.

I don't need much for this time around though... still have my bow and arrow with me, as well as Dad's twin daggers (I always keep them handy when travelling in the woods, just in case some Lutin manages to find a hole in our defense; it's happened before, but only once, and the first person it ran into was Angus, so the stay was short-lived, but...), so I head over to the bookcase and get out one of my sketchbooks, and pick up my Pen off my desk.

The Pen I have is a remarkable thing; it dates back as far back as when Jono and I were still travelling in the Southern Midlands. One wizard was particularly impressed by our storytelling, and so he gave us each a gift - two small wands with pointed tips that write much like any other ink and quill pen combination, but they never run out of "ink", and they're enchanted such that you can't lose them, ever - even if pulled from your hand it teleports back to you. It's easily one of my most prized posessions. I take it and my sketchbook, put them in my pack, get the pack on, and then head back upstairs.

"I'm going to head out and do some sketching for a bit." I tell Erica as I head past.

"Okay" she says. "Enjoy."

"I will" I say, smiling. I always do.

I'm not that much of a portrait artist. I couldn't draw another Glen resident, or anyone else in the valley for that matter, if I tried. But many people say that I'm very good at scenery and landscapes.

My first destination is always the same - the clearing just before the mountains. There's a small patch of ground - only about twenty fox paces, or so - just to the far west of the Glen where oddly nothing at all grows. I'm told that sorcerers from around the world once came to study this place and try to find exactly why this place was the way it was, but nobody ever unravelled the mystery. No magical influence, no apparent deformities in the soil, nothing.

But all around the patch are the most majestic trees you have ever seen.

I double-check my backpack just to make sure that nothing falls out - don't want to drop my notebook as I'm heading up - and then start up the nearest tree.

One of the nicest things I found upon coming to Glen Avery was the trees to climb. Being a fox of the gray variety, I found my usual childhood love of treeclimbing amplified a great deal, to the point of even competing with Christopher and Darien at one point (never again, though... the day someone outraces those two rascals will be the day we appoint Nasoj as Duke of Metamor). As the Glen just happens to be, well, a Glen, treeclimbing turned out to be a very useful asset here.

I finally get up to the one branch I've been working from, lay back, pull out my notebook and Pen, and flip a few pages in to the sketch I've been working on for a few days now. Looking up torwards the top of the tree from a branch is to me one of the most astonishing and yet interesting sights around. That thought seems to be limited, unfortunately, to myself and maybe a few squirrels, as when I've recommended it to others their reactions have typically been... less than awestruck. But that doesn't stop me from my own sketches.

Going by the position of the sun, I have about two hours to burn before the Unveiling. So I get out the Pen and start resuming work on the sketch. Some of the branches need to be added, and the lower ones need a little shading. The Pen does wonders for this kind of work... as variable in tint as charcoal. It really doesn't surprise me in the least that the wizard Jono and I got these from used to make quite the pretty penny selling these to artists across the la-

«-earperk. Noise?»


Still, I close the notebook, sit up and take a look around...

...Nothing. Not a thing.

"You're getting a little too jumpy, hon," I tell myself out loud. Lean back, open notebook back u-



"Damnit, Marcus! What in Kammoloth's name do you think you're DOING, sneaking up on me like that?"

The pine marten just sits there, grinning. "Wanted to let you know I was all better. Didn't want you worrying."

"You *wouldn't* have been all better if I'd just tossed the knife before seeing you clearly..." His bandage looks none the worse for wear... at least that much is reassuring. Marcus is another one of the younger ones, though he's been in the scouts far longer than most. He used to be one of the few people who could calm down even Garrigan... while the ferret was around, at least. "You've got to learn sometime that catching armed friends by surprise can easily mean tragedy for you and horror on the part of the friend who just stabbed-"

"Oh, that'll never happen. Even if you did think to reach for the knife I could have dodged it easy," he says with the quiet air of one who is convinced that he is immortal and impervious to grievous harm.

I pull out one of Dad's daggers. "Even these ones?"

Marcus looks a little hesitant. "Um... sure, yeah, if I had enough warning, there was enough distance..."

I just keep looking at him.

"Well, okay, it'd be difficult, to be sure..."

Just looking.

"Might get a slight cut. But only slight!"


"...Okay, all right, so it would have been bad, probably. Sheesh. Happy now?"

"Of course," I say, smiling slightly. "Now please head back to the Apothecary, would you? Erica's not going to be too pleased if she finds your bed empty."

The last words have hardly left my mouth before the marten has vanished into the woods in the direction of the Glen.

Glen Scouts. Sheesh. Tough and capable fighters, but children. All of them children.

It's time.

Kevin has already warned Lars in advance, so that he knows that we'll be using his place as an impromptu meeting spot. I've climbed up to Lord Avery's and let him know too, so he can call over the Glenfolk to see what we've wrought.

When we get to Lars' place the tables are already set up. The results of the Plan are on the far table, covered by Walter's cloth. I do a quick count, just to make sure Kevin isn't up to any mischief... nope, they're all there. Good.

Several of the Glenfolk have already arrived. Jeremy is sitting on the ground next to a table and looking curiously at the cloth. Marcus and Erica are both behind another table, paw in hoof. Burrim is perched in a nearby tree, trying to get the secret out of Kevin (I doubt Kevin'll talk though. I hope not, at least.). The Averys are all near their seats, Christopher and Darien barely able to sit still. Rascals.

Angus is right behind me. To his credit, he's not trying to pull the secret out of my ear. At least not directly.

"I just happen to wonder what kind of situation would be so grave that it would need the attendance of most of the Glen. Doesn't it puzzle you, Jo?"

So much for indirectly... I give him a friendly smile. "Oh, certainly. One of those little mysteries of life, I suppose." I'm not telling him a single thing until that cloth is lifted.

"Perhaps one might be able to share thoughts on these mysteries?"

Mmmhm. "Well, I've gotten far enough to say that they're quite mysterious." A nod, and a grin. Not telling him a single thing.

He looks at me with a hurt expression, but doesn't continue to press the issue. Instead he looks torwards the table, where the results of the Plans lay.

Then Lord Avery's voice rings out. "Could I have your attention, please?" All conversation ceases almost instantly. "Thank you!"

"Now, I'm sure you're all wondering why you've been asked to come here today" he starts. I can see a few heads nod. "Well, the truth is I have very little idea of the reason why myself." Several incredulous looks, and a single "What?" emerge from the crowd. "Instead, I merely turn over the floor to those responsible for this plot." He turns to me. "Joanne?"

Here goes... I step forward. "Thank you, milord. We - that is, myself, Kevin" - Kevin puffs out his feathers with pride - "and Mrs. Levins have together prepared a small something which we decided might make for a new... attraction to the Glen." Most folks are paying attention now. Some look a little exasperated, as if to say «Get to the point, damned longwinded vixen!», but I persevere. This isn't the sort of thing you rush. "A few days back, Kevin," - his feathers are Still puffed out, the crazy bird - "while out on patrol, made a discovery that I promise will be of great interest to you all very shortly. He did not report this to his superiors" - Angus looks squarely at Kevin, who seems to shrink a little into the puffed out feathers - "but instead swiftly notified me. As my experience in dealing with the discovery was slim, I enlisted the help of one who knows the full implications of what we had discovered - and thus we went to Mrs. Levins."

I now have Everyone's full and complete attention. "Over a period of two days we worked on our plan. The first day was spent in planning and preparation, the second in aquisition and creation. It took a long time, especially since we wished to bring no other persons into our confidence - in the end, we did end up bringing Walter into this as well; she has provided the fine cover you see on the table hence" - I gesture torwards the table with the cover, and all heads glance that way before turning back to me - "but we eventually did complete the task."

"Great! So what by all the gods Is it?" This from some unknown in the crowd, followed by general laughter.

I grin.

"With hours of careful planning, backbreaking transportation of the discovery, and long hours at Mrs. Levins' preparing the final product, we have brought a creation which we are sure will delight. Through Mrs. Levins' experience and my contribution of spices and other goods, we have created..."

I sweep a paw torwards the table, whereupon Mrs. Levins and Walter both lift the cover up to reveal...

"...the Glen Avery Strawberry Pie."

Silence. Then a mixture of applause, though it's hard to hear from the footsteps of mad dashes torwards the table.

I love the Glen.

I really don't want to stay for the cleanup; the sun is almost down and I don't want to miss my time up at the cliffs. Thankfully Lars is a gentleman when he wants to be, and he helpfully gathers up the napkins and plates that are scattered all over the tables, leaving me free.

Free to visit the Vantage Point.

Having stopped by my home in the Apothecary to pick up a small relightable torch that I picked up from another wizard during my travels with Jono, I head off. Going through the woods, past the unknown clearing, to the cliffs. Climb up the rock about seven feet to the edge of the path. Then a slow, leisurely walk up along the path all the way up to the ruined fortress.

I stop when I reach the fortress, looking at it briefly, as I always find myself doing when I come up here. Wondering what was seen by the travelling merchants and soldiers who passed the same way I'd just passed, in the days when this was a whole and formidable place. I can imagine the guard towers on each corner, the walls not especially tall but forbidding and strong and proud nonetheless, the soldiers with grins and waves to the travellers at the joy of seeing another living soul that worked for them and not against them.

Perhaps we'll fix it up someday; I've heard talk of the possibility of restoring this fortress, as many others have been restored, and remaking it into a Keep outpost. I would rather not see that happen though, as I prefer this place alone.

The sunset is gorgeous. The red light flowing over the trees, slowly shifting in the wind, gives one the sensation of hovering or flying over a vast ocean of life; the waves of the branches being indistinguishable from waves of water.

Sigh. I miss those days with Jono, I truly do. The time we found ourselves suddenly stranded on the ship that turned out to be delivering one of the head wizards of Sathmore. The adventure we had getting out of the swamps to the east. Or the dark altar we found in the woods...

...Or even when we ran into each other at the tavern when I was still a child, and how he and his family took me in after hearing of how my family had been butchered by the Inquisitionists.

Perhaps one day I'll get him to tell that story. He never really could come up with the ideas for stories; he merely knew how to craft and present them. Perhaps that's why he and I did so well as travelling companions, in one way - his adventures furnished the ideas for his stories, and my keeping along kept his fool head alive long enough to tell the story.

I smile. Jono has always been the reckless type. Wanting to see the entire world, whereas I merely wanted to live in it and experience.

Ah well.

I stay there, sitting on the edge of the cliff, legs dangling down as before, watching the sun slowly drop down beneath the horizon. Then, finally, after darkness returns, I get out my small torch, cast a small bit of light around me, and head back down the path to the Apothecary.

It was nice seeing the world, but I'm glad to have a home now.