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<<<<<<<<<<<< Baldet >>>>>>>>>>>>

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In a place called Baldet, a collection of islands in the Teltoch Ocean, high in the northern Mentar Mountains, there lived a tribe of people. One evening in late September, where the temperature in the mountains plunges to a dozen or so degrees above freezing, a group of young boys were gathered around a roaring bonfire awaiting the arrival of an elder of the tribe who was to tell them a parable. Dark had fallen just shy of an hour before when the mighty solar furnace hid itself beyond the most distant peak, not daring to venture from its concealment until morning. The mountain air posessed a light mist seen only by the scattering of firelight on this cool night. Silence fell upon the talkative youths when a man dressed in long, forest green robes appeared noiselessly from the surrounding treeline. He was an old man with a face that gave the impression of boundless knowledge. As he made his way to the side of the warmth-giving blaze, the boys' eyes followed him with gleams of excitement and curiosity. Slowly he eased his aged body to the soft earth, raising his frail arms to warm the extended chilled hands. After passing a gaze at each eager youth in the group, he cleared his throat several times and began to speak.

"There is a story about a stranger from a distant land who came to the mountains. He was dressed in clothes that matched the colors of the land and had a large ax and sack. He came to the sacred mountains enraged, as if sent by a demon. His objective and sole purpose for his presence here was to kill the eagles." At this, the boys jumped as if burning logs from the fire had found their way under their feet. The elder paused, the youths settled, and he continued.

"Although this man had come with his powerful ax to attack the birds of the mountains, our friends the eagles were not totally defenseless. Knowing that an offensive battle with the hunter would be futile, the birds took a defensive angle and led him deep into the inner glens and caves of the mountain range, where he would become lost. At this point, the man no longer had the advantage of escape or the element of surprise. With nowhere to go and no protection from the sometimes violent weather of the peaks, the man had no choice but to find shelter. After hours of searching, he found a suitable mountainside to carve out a home for the night. Using nearby fallen branches, logs, and mud created by the rains of the sudden storm, the hunter created a makeshift half-tent, half-cave. He spent four days and nights in this house waiting out the barrage of wind, rain, sleet, and snow; constantly repairing damaged portions of the cottage; and all the while, weakening from the cold and lack of food."

By his daring interruption and masculine tone of voice, what appeared to be the oldest of the attentive boys, spoke up. "What became of him?"

Paying neither the question nor the questioner any attention, without pausing, and totally ignoring the interjection, the elder spoke once again. "The next morning the man was woken by the noises of eagles near his tent-cave. He leaped towards them, ax in hand, and buried the silver blade into the back of one of the fleeing birds. It shouts forth an erie sound and the other eagles turn on the enraged man, who is unable to contend with them all because he is so weak."

"What did they do to him?"

"Did they kill him?"

"Did they eat him?"

After a few seconds of a silencing stare at the crowd, the old man answered. "No, the eagles would never kill a human, even after he has killed one of them. May we get on with the tale?" A series of nods follows.

"After he fell unconscious from exaustion, the eagles carried him off to a mountiantop where he would be unable to climb down. It was here that he spent twenty days in seclusion. On the twenty-first day, as the sun rose over the hillside, clouds of smoke rising from the blazing forest below scattered its rays into a dim orange glow. The man, realizing his fate if the blaze grows further, makes a pact with the eagles never to attack them again and helps them to smother the flames of greed and revengeful hate."

Just as quietly as he arrived at the humble campsite, the elder man rose to his feet and began walking towards the surrounding dark forest. The youths, with stares of confusion and eagerness, did not attempt to stop him or pursue. Only after no traces of doubt remained in the boys' minds that the mysterious man had indeed left the area did they resume their adolescent discussions. As the light from the campfire faded to a crimson glow from the dying coals, the cool night air pursuaded the campers to fall asleep with the effect of a lullaby.

Far to the southeast of the towering Mentar Mountains lay a collection of islands known to their inhabitants as the Lantosch archipelago. One of the islands, Fox Is., named for its population of snow-white foxes, is the home of four friends. These men, having read tales of a large land mass to the west of the nine Lantosch islands, embark into the unknown, shark-infested Teltoch Ocean to the west on what most of the Fox islanders label a desperate attempt to prove that these men can conquer nature. None expect to ever see the brave souls again.

Their tiny craft, packed with stores of food, water, and fishing bait, all donated by their families, supported two small canvas sails, each no larger than the size three animal skins could provide. Fastened to frail masts of hand-carved wood, these sails could harness just enough wind to propell the hopeful foursome and their cargo out into the unknown western waters.

After what seemed like weeks passed, the band began to give more respect to the "conservative" idea that a large western land mass does not exist. On a particularly foggy morning, one of the men was braving the chilly air to eat his breakfast when an unfamiliar type of bird landed on the bow. It had brightly colored, long feathers of red and yellow, and a purple crest the length of his hand. He made no attempts to frighten the creature as he slowly crawled toward the entrance to the lower deck to summon the others. They returned to find the bird investigating the man's fallen bread. This was the first sign of land and it reignited the fires of determination in the men's hearts. The roar of excitement that followed caused the bird to take to its wings, and the sailors persued in that general direction. As the midday sun pierced the thinning fog, the outlines of hills shone through. Immediately, the boat was pointed towards them and set on its way. Much to the dismay of the men, the shore was comprised of unscalable cliffs and no apparant beach. With little debate, the decision to follow the coast southward was implemented.

Several sightings of the rainbow birds, as the men christened them, followed during the next few days. Then, the birds became scarce as an ominous sky creeped closer. The dark, thick clouds ever so slowly pushed their way towards the small vessel. The four men hastily began preparing their boat for the forthcoming beating to be administered by the pounding rain and rising waves. As the winds began to stream recklessly across the ship's deck, the larger of the two skinsails developed a large gash before it could be lowered and stored below deck as had been the smaller sail. The now-viscious wind had attained enough strength to stress the mast and cause it to bend, eventually cracking and snapping, the upper half with the torn skinsail plummeting through the deck into the cabins below. The three men still fighting to secure the ropes and rigging on the rain-soaked deck, through the wail of blistering wind, could hear a horrible, deathly scream from the pit in the deck. As they rushed to investigate, a large wave swept across the bow, tossing two of the men overboard with the third clinging to the edge of the crumbling boat. He made his way back onto the deck and crawled over to the hole, now filling with water from below. Looking inside, he could see his shipmate impaled by the fallen mast, laying lifeless in the rising pool of red seawater. He then turned to the ocean to find his other companions, to no end. With only a faint outline of the disasterous cliffs to the starboard side, much closer than deemed safe in his mind, he struggled to point the boat to the southeast, away from the rocks and certain death. After this heading had been established, and once again scanning the dark, churning waters for any signs of life, the weary sailor rushed below deck to attempt to access and repair the cause of the leak there. Using his and his fallen partner's clothing as makeshift plugs, along with rags and the small sail, he managed to slow the ontake of water. Pausing a moment to remember his friend, and then climbing back into the direct path of the storm, he desperately shouted out into the blackness for the remaining men. No one answered him. A glance at the now-distant cliffs gave him only the slightest feeling of relief.

"How will I ever find my friends?" he thought to himself. "They've been swallowed by this storm and inevitably this boat WILL sink. Shall my fate be any different?"

The winds had become calm and the once blistering rain had ceased. The storm was over. The remaining soul on board, exausted from struggling to direct the vessel away from land, slept. The dripping of water began to stop and the bright morning sun shone into the bowels of the ship, waking the man from his rest. One glance over to his lifeless friend reminded him it was not a dream, and he began to cry. Rising to his feet and making his way onto the slippery deck, he saw no land in sight. In desperation, he decided to travel west, knowing that he was too far south to travel back home in that condition. As the day progressed and the hunger inside began to fill his thoughts, he began to wonder if he would ever reach land. That afternoon, one of the rainbow birds flew overhead, and once again, he followed. Just before sunset, a small island could be seen in the distance. He decided to make every effort to reach it while he still had daylight. Upon landing on the shore, he stumbled up the light sandy beach to a patch of grass. There, where he was certain no man had ever been before, he took his small dagger and stabbed it into the ground and fell asleep.

When he woke, he found himself on a very different beach, one he was much more familiar with; it was that of Fox. Island. The islanders, amazed to see that he had returned when he walked into town, could not understand. He could not answer their questions about how he returned. When one asked, "Where is your boat?" he could only reply, "On the beach, the beach of a distant western island."

The first crack appeared in the shell. Then another. And another. Faila lept to her feet and ran, as fast as a 9-yr-old can, from the dimly lit barn towards the blacksmith's shop, where her brother Timon worked. As she ran, she shouted, "It's hatching! It's hatching!" Timon looked up, his already dark face made even darker by several layers of soot and grime.

"Is it really?" he asked excitedly. "It's finally happening?"

"Yes, come quickly." She ran off in the direction of the barn without waiting for Timon. He dropped his hammer, threw off the heavy leather apron, and darted in the same direction, nearly catching up to Faila at the barn door.

"Over here," she said as she ran over to the little straw nest in the corner. The shell now had a few holes in it and a tiny beak could be seen intermittently poking through.

After some time, several adults had gathered at the entrance to the barn, wondering what all the commotion was about. There was Morgan, the blacksmith, and his wife, Alice. Timon turned to see who was there. Morgan was a large man, standing nearly the height of the barn door, and half as wide. His round face and large eyes complimented his bold proportions. He always wore dark brown, stained work clothes that his wife was constantly trying to get him to wash. His hair, of what little there is to mention, was blond but tainted with black soot from his furnace. He had come so abruptly that he had forgotten to leave his hammer, but carried it with him in his massive right hand. Timon had always admired his teacher's hammer, but could hardly lift it. It was very old, he has assumed, most likely passed down to him from his father, and to him from his. Timon hoped one day to have one like it in a shop of his own.

Alice, in sharp contrast to her husband, was a petite woman, much younger than Morgan. Her long, brown hair and eyes of the same hue, along with a slinder frame and slight build, cast her as the complete opposite to the bulk of the blacksmith. She was the only one aside from the two children who had any knowledge of the eagle's egg before that moment.

Last to arrive was Emas, the elder of the village. Somehow, the children suspected that he knew what they had all along, but they were sure that they had not told anyone save Alice. He was very old, his age uncertain, but no one contested that he was the eldest man of all the villages in the area. He wore a blue and maroon robe over his small body, smaller still than Alice. His long greying beard, hanging nearly to his waist, covered a necklace of jewels he wore. On the necklase were gems of ranite, a silver stone found in the Mentar Mountains; halicite, a green-striped, brownish rock; and a rare blue stone called orphalicite, said to be harder than a blacksmith's anvil. Emas stood back away from the small group as they watched the baby eagle struggle to break out of its shell.

At last, the bird's small eggtooth carved the top off the shell, allowing it room to emerge from its former home into the world. This eagle appeared "different," as Faila put it. It did not have the normal white down feathers found on baby birds, but feathers of a light red shade. It's eyes were anomalous as well, having no pigmentation at all. At that time, as Emas turned to leave, Timon spoke up.

"Elder, why is this eagle colored the way it is?"

"It is a sign, a sign that I knew was to come. There will be great dangers to follow in the near future; I must prepare." At that, he strolled out the barn and left. A hush fell over the remaining group, as no one knew what to say.

Morgan spoke up, as if he felt obligated. "Let's get this bird some food and bring him into the house out of the barn. It'll be night soon and it won't survive the cold out here." With no one uttering anything, only Faila and Timon glancing at one another then to Alice, Faila scooped up the baby and carried it away, leaving the empty shell on the nest of straw.

Although it had become very cold in the Mentar Mountains during winters past, this winter was unusually warm, described as "somewhat pleasant" by several of the older villagers, who had survived previous harsh seasons. However, it was still no springtime weather; with temperatures dropping low enough to frost the surface of pails of standing water at night, and keeping most farm animals in the barns during the cool daytime.

Faila, with the baby eagle cuddled within her arms, walked up to the blacksmith's home, led by Alice and Timon. Alice opened the large wooden door to let the children in. Just as Faila had entered the dwelling, a voice shouted out in the distance.

"Timon!"

Without hesitation, he turned and rushed back to the shop, the summons from his teacher reminding him of his obligations at work.

Inside the house, Alice took the bird and attended to its first meal as Faila watched with amazement upon how the animal ate. "Amazing!"

"They are born knowing how to survive, dear. Now, fetch some water from the creek and we will clean this little one up."

Faila did as she was told, for not only were Alice and Morgan friends to the children, but also their foster parents. Several months after Faila's birth, her natural mother became very sick with an illness unknown even to Emas. She got progressively worse, to the point where her husband had to remain home all day to care for her and the newborn. Timon, age ten at the time, began helping with cleaning up at the blacksmith's shop. Morgan saw potential and determination in the boy, and after considering his family's dim situation, decided to take him on as an apprentice. The mother died shortly thereafter. What happened to their father is somewhat less clear. In the week following her burial, he was out hiking northeast of the village, near the cliffs overlooking