Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: The Druid's Call
The sharp twang of a bowstring had a way of attracting attention. Arrows could be quiet if they were fletched properly, and a well-trained ranger could move through a pile of dry leaves without making a noise. But some things were just unavoidable. If you were going to take a shot, you had to be sure your aim was true, because you might not get another chance.
Doric’s arrow went wide, and the herd of deer that she and her fellows had been diligently tracking split up in a panic and melted into the trees.
“That was better!” said a chipper voice beside her. Torrieth could always be counted on for encouragement, even when Doric wasn’t in the mood for it. It was the foundation of their relationship and had been since the first time the slender, dark-haired elf had laid eyes on her.
Doric crashed through the brush to retrieve her arrow. She didn’t even try to be quiet, and her tail thrashed at the low-growing shrubs in the underbrush. She looked up and saw a snowy owl perched above her. Even the owl looked judgmental. She stuck her tongue out at it, but it didn’t react.
“We can’t eat what we don’t shoot,” Doric pointed out, returning to her friend’s side.
“There are plenty of deer,” Torrieth told her. “Maybe the others will have better luck.”
Doric wanted to tell her that it wasn’t luck. It was skill, and it was a skill that she couldn’t seem to master no matter how long she practiced. She knew the other hunting parties were positioned so that after she screwed up, they’d be able to take advantage of the panicking deer. Her incompetence was part of the plan, an example of how she was able to contribute. She hated that.
“You know,” Torrieth continued, “no one expects you to be out here. You don’t have to hunt with us. You don’t even eat that much.”
She did, sometimes, eat what the hunters brought home. Perhaps if she were a more able hunter, she would feel differently, but she wasn’t, and so she ate things the elves couldn’t when no one was watching and held herself to minimal portions from the communal hearth. She didn’t want to remind the elves that she was different too frequently, but even more than that, she didn’t want to be a burden.
There were deer aplenty. In fact, there were probably too many deer. The farmers and woodcutters along the forest edge killed the wolves that preyed on their livestock, thinning them out until there weren’t enough to keep the deer population in check. Then the deer ate everything that was green and below shoulder height, leaving little for the other forest animals. So the elves ate the deer in order to restore the balance. It was a work in progress, but it was progress all the same.
The Neverwinter Wood was a strange place where seasonal norms didn’t precisely apply. Something was always flowering or fruiting or mating, and that meant that food was rarely hard to come by. But that food always tasted like guilt to Doric, and if her demon-given stomach could handle fallen tree bark and the occasional piece of limestone, she’d let it. The wood elves had taken care of her ever since she’d first come to the forest, which was a rare blessing from the reclusive forest-dwellers. She was nothing like them, but she owed them a lot. The least she could do was make it easy for them.
“I want to help,” Doric said.
“I know,” Torrieth said. “Maybe you just need more practice.”
It was kind of her—Torrieth was usually kind—but Doric had already decided that this would be her last hunt if she was unsuccessful. She’d try something else. Like berry picking. It had to be hard to screw up berry picking.
“Whatever you’re thinking, I reject it utterly,” Torrieth said. “And I will kill you if you leave me out here in the forest alone with all the boys.”
Doric laughed in spite of herself. Torrieth wasn’t the only girl in their age-group with ranger talents, but she’d dragged Doric into training with her anyway. Lately it seemed like a few of the boys were inventing reasons to spend time with Torrieth, and she wasn’t particularly interested in most of them. Doric definitely understood wanting to avoid attracting attention.
“Fine, I’ll keep practicing,” Doric said. “But maybe I should talk to Liavaris about another apprenticeship or something, just in case.”
Torrieth only rolled her eyes, and the two girls headed back down the game trail towards the elven encampment. It was a sunny day in the Neverwinter Wood, which was not uncommon, and the air was warm. Outside the forest it was early spring, cold days broken up by warming breezes. Here, under the dappled green light of the trees, the sun wasn’t particularly hot, but it could get humid quickly. The elven hunters had gone out at first light to avoid the worst of it.
Now that they weren’t focused on the deer, Torrieth’s gaze wandered to and fro through the trees. Doric watched her, wondering if she could learn to see the forest the way her friend did. She wanted to love the strong, tall trees and the grappling shrubs that tried to grow up from the forest floor, but she didn’t feel it the way Torrieth seemed to. No matter how hard she tried to forget, the forest held dark memories for her, so she could never be entirely comfortable here. She could tell if animals were healthy or if plants were hale, but her experience was hard won. And yet Torrieth breathed the forest in, always knowing exactly where she was and remembering every leaf and twig she saw.
“Berries.” Torrieth pointed away from the game trail. She knew Doric hated to come home empty-handed. “Did you bring a bag?”
Doric had already pulled a foraging bag out of her satchel. The girls went into the brush, and a few steps later, they were surrounded by fat red partridgeberries, dark as blood. It took them only a few minutes to fill the bag, stripping three-quarters of the berries from every plant, leaving some for the birds. They were nearly back to the trail when one of the other hunting parties caught up with them.
“Torrieth, look!” Deverel was almost staggering under the weight of the young deer he carried across his shoulders. He’d been part of their training group, and this was his first successful hunt. He was clearly thrilled. “It was awesome. The deer came crashing through where we were set up, and my shot was perfect.”
Doric could see he was telling the truth. There was almost no blood, and from her angle, the deer looked unmarked. Deverel was right to be proud of himself, and he was genuine enough that it wasn’t obnoxious. He’d practiced his aim day and night for months now. Torrieth congratulated him, and Deverel’s copper skin flushed a few shades pinker.
“Doric, Torrieth,” said Deverel’s mentor, a seasoned ranger named Fenjor. “I’m glad we found you. I’ve got to get this one back to camp, but there’s something strange going on southwest of here, by the river. It’s too quiet, and the water doesn’t feel right. We didn’t have time to check it out before the deer came. Could you make sure nothing is amiss?”
“Of course,” Doric said. She handed over the berries a bit reluctantly. She was going to be empty-handed after all. But there was no way she’d say no to a request from one of the elders.
“Oh, these are perfect,” Deverel said, looking into the bag. “Your berries and my deer wrapped up and roasted together all afternoon—it’s going to be delicious. I’m going to tell everyone.”
Fenjor rolled his eyes, but his smile was indulgent. Torrieth covered her smirk by checking her quiver. Of all the clan members, Deverel was the one she liked best after Doric, though as far as Doric knew, neither of them had talked to the other about it.
“Ready to go?” Torrieth asked.
“Always,” Doric replied.
They plunged back into the forest in the direction that Fenjor and Deverel had come from. It was an easy walk through the underbrush. The way down to the river was always easier than the way home. For most of its course through the Neverwinter Wood, the river was slow and meandering, its banks gentle. Near the camp, the river was narrow and quick, with steep, rocky banks that were easy enough to scramble down but a challenge to climb. Doric would never complain. At least she wouldn’t have to do it carrying a deer.
“Deverel seems nice,” Doric said after a few moments walking in silence.
“Oh, he’s absolutely gone on me,” Torrieth said. “We could have collected a basket full of slugs, and he’d still be all excited at the idea that we worked together to get dinner. It’s kind of cute.”