Jake's Quest

By: David Ihnen

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This story is Copyright by David Ihnen. Please do not distribute without permission.

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The early pre-dawn light revealed a pile of pine branches rustling as Jake stirred, waking. He stretched and winced, the burns from the fire yesterday night twinging as the rough cloth rasped over them. His dogs bunched around him as he sat up, licking his face in a joyous morning greeting. The boy stood up, pushing them aside. His lean frame was covered by a rough homespun tunic and britches. Burn holes let in the cool morning air. He walked quietly down the street towards the river.

The town was a shambles. The only buildings left standing were some outhouses. Perhaps they were below the notice of the griffin. The boy efficiently stripped his clothing off and left it on a large rock near the river. He waded in, gritting his teeth as the cool water tingled his limbs. He scrubbed his skin with handfulls of sand, carefully avoiding the tender burns. A couple of hounds paddled around him, while others barked concernedly from the shore. He ignored them, bathing efficiently to get out of the cold water.

Shivering, wet, but alot cleaner, Jake stood on the shore, bouncing up and down to warm himself as the water ran from his thin body. The swimming dogs joined him on the shore, shaking the cold water from their fur.

Jake climbed atop the large rock that marked the town's location along the swift flowing river. He stretched his arms out to recieve the first rays of the sun, breaking brilliantly over a distant hill. He breathed deep the cool morning air, slowly rotating as the warm beams warmed him. He could feel the indian scout who watched the village from across the river, watching him intently. He was always watching.

A rooster crowed, and he hopped down, gingerly slipping back into his clothes. He greeted other townspeople as they came to fetch water for the day. He picked up the widow's second bucket, helping her carry the load back up the slope. Together they walked up the street. Near the ruins of the stable, they found the youngest family in the town. Jake knelt with the bitch and her puppies, roughing up their fur, hugging them unreservedly. Puppies were cute, but it was time to go. He collected his slate and chalk. The widow spared him some jerky in a small bag. He hugged her, and signaled the bitch to stay as he walked away. She tried to follow, but he did it again, firmly, until she sat, looking after him solefully. He hated leaving her and the puppies behind, but he had little choice. The spirit of his love would not rest until the monster came to justice.

Old Job stood at his usual place against the now half-burned stump of the watch tower. He watched Jake pet the puppies and tell the dog to stay. As the boy approached, his sharp eyes looked the youth over.

"So you're off, areya?" he queried.

Jake nodded.

"Don't worry, I'll make sure Zerta there gets food for her and her puppies." he patted Jake on the shoulder. "We're gonna miss you, rascal."

Jake smiled and hugged Job tightly. He broke the hug, saluted the old man, and turned and headed into the forest to the north. The rest of the dogs trotted with him, ranging about him in the forest.

* * *

The first few miles were fairly uneventful. The forest was alive with the intensity of summer. Insects and small mammals rustled in the leaves. The hounds smelled a stag and started to bay. He called them back with a sharp whistle. He shook his head at them. They weren't out to hunt deer today. Only griffins.

He broke his trot after an hour or so as he approached a pathway beaten through the forest. There were many animal and human footprints on top of each other, mixed with cart tracks. The dogs sniffed the tracks curiously, emanating various levels of curiosity. One barked sharply to Jake, wagging excitedly.

Jake walked over and inspected what the dog had found. It was a familiar bootprint, digging a deep divot in the trodden earth, squarely between two cartwheel tracks. Jake tilted his head. Henry? He looked along a little further, finding a clearer bootprint in some softer earth. Yes, there was the notch in the tread from when he saw Henry block his father's swing with the axe. A flat image of the bootprint showed them to be a little bigger than Jake's own feet. The same size as Henry's. Obviously he was pulling something heavy, probably the cart that made the tracks. Jake had little idea how old the tracks were, but he started along with them, following the dogs. Many of the tracks were strange, of animals he'd never seen before. The dogs snuffled them perenially, puzzling over them. There were hoofprints, deer prints, cattle prints, even huge cat-like prints and ones that seemed to be from a giant river otter.

Jake walked along quickly, following the trail as it wound through the trees, around hills, but ever westward. The well-trodden track wasn't hard to follow. About noon, they came unexectedly upon several rabbits. The dogs were on them in moments. They offered Jake some of the meat, but he had them eat it. The boy and the dogs stopped as the sun set, finding a mostly concealed but recently used fire pit near the edge of a clearing. He bedded in a makeshift bed nearby, making a dry meal of his packed jerky. The dogs lay close in the night, ears alert for danger. He used one of the dogs for a pillow, surrounded by fur.

"As long as I have you," he whispered to the dogs, "I'll never be alone."

Jake was off before sunrise, chewing a strip of jerky as he went. He felt he was getting close. He passed their campground. It was now easy to smell the churned earth. The dogs trotted along, tongues lolling. Their ground eating pace continued steadily into the afternoon. The dogs ranged through the forest near the trail.

The dogs suddenly started snarling and barking, running ahead around a corner. He jogged to follow them, whistling so they knew where he was. He found them a little way into the forest, snarling and barking madly. The hounds were barking up a tree, leaping and snapping. In the tree was Lord Jackson, pitchfork tied to the stinking stump of an arm, glaring at the hounds below. Jake grinned. He shook with silent laughter, pointing at the helpless tyrant.

"crazy! stupid!" he signed at the sputtering man.

"Call off your dogs, Jake! Let me down from here!" roared the man, poking at the dogs with his pitchfork.

Jake had a good laugh, sitting down to catch his breath. The dogs didn't let up, snapping at the man whenever he moved. When Jackson looked suitably uncomfortable, Jake signed to him insultingly and walked away, leaving his dogs to tree the man. One by one, the dogs joined him, leaving the petty tyrant alone in his tree.

Well down the trail, he approached a stream. The mud had not yet settled from the passing of the Tiyessa. He crouched down for a long drink a bit upstream of the ford. He looked around himself and shrugged, laying on his chest and dousing his head in the water. It felt good. Cool, clear. He sucked in another mouthful of water, swallowing it. He didn't hear the barking of his dogs untill it was too late, the wind crushed out of his lungs by a huge paw pressed on his back. He struggled his head out of the water, gasping desperately for breath. Suddenly the pressure was lifted, as the world spun. He rolled to a stop. He shook the dizziness out of his head and looked around. A large lion a short distance away was roaring at his dogs. The dogs barked and snarled, hackled raised, lunging at the big feline, staying between him and his attacker. He tentatively gathered his feet under him and backed over against a tree, watching the battle.

Lions didn't exist in the massachussets forest. He'd seen them in the priest's book, he knew what they looked like.

"CALL OFF THE DOGS!" roared the lion. Jake's head snapped up, staring at the lion incredulously.

The lion seemed to meld, change, becoming more humanoid, standing on two feet now.

"CALL OFF THE DOGS!" growled Phadin, blocking a rush by one of the hounds with a brutal swipe his paw.

Jake looked about nervously. He could see other creatures peering out from behind trees, and a number of them looked nasty. He reluctantly put his fingers in his mouth and whistled sharply. The dogs backed off reluctantly, snarling and snapping at the strange lion-man still. A man stepped forward from behind the lion.

"I am Thomas, leader of the Tiyessa. Who are you?"

Jake pointed to his mouth and shook his head.

"JAKE!" yelled a voice to his right. Henry bounded out of the brush, tackling Jake in a hug. "I'm so glad to see you! Oh, Thomas, this is Jake! He's mute, he can't talk. He's my friend! Really!"

The dogs licked and welcomed Henry briefly, keeping an eye on the increasing thicket of Tiyessa around them.

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They led him back to their freshly pitched encampment. Henry chatted non-stop, telling Jake about turning into a dog, about all the other tiyessa, telling anybody that would listen about Jake and how great he was. The dogs sniffed and investigated the other Tiyessa, remaining a respectful distance from the powerful Phadin.

Even though Jake knew Henry was happy to see him, the other Tiyessa remained suspicious, looking at him distrustfully. He felt their stares drill into him, wilting his confidence and doubting his mission. As they ate dinner, Jake drew pictures on the ground. The story came out something like this.

Two nights ago
Stable on fire
loved dog dead
broken heart
jake killing griffin

The tiyessa fell silent as the meaning of the writing became clear. Jake sat cross legged by the fire, looking soberly at what he had drawn. A voice rose from the group, thick with irish accent.

"The griffin, 'he's a friend o'mine." he said gently, "rejected like the rest of us."

The red-bearded man hung his head.

"He went rampagin', I tried to talk him out of it. He was so angry. Aye, its not an excuse, I know."

Jake looked intently at the man, his neck muscles straining. He signed violently to Henry.

Henry shifted and looked uncomfortable.

"He says... Its... his right. To rest... put to rest... the spirit... of his love."

Thomas cleared his throat.

"This matter, it is between Jake and the griffin." he inclined his head to Jake, "You are free to leave at your will. No Tiyessa shall interfere in the matter."

He looked gravely about the group, ensuring they understood.

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