Stories of Rumor Woods/The Corral

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The Corral

Ayeano sipped her tea as she gazed out from the hill she stood on. Behind her, the bonfire warmed her fragile wings, which still ached in the morning from the cold but were slowly getting used to the difference in temperature. She wryly noted that lamb’s wool was an amazing material and was glad that one of the elves that lived with them in Cysaegir had suggested it.

The sky was the color of blue chalcedony with wispy clouds slipping through on unseen winds, each one never large enough to block the golden warmth of the sun. All around her, the hillock was teeming with life, everything from winged insects and crawling bugs to fluffy hares and stoats to humanoids and their pets. Flowers swayed slightly, the early signs of a breeze making its way towards her.

She gazed to the southeast, watching as she had for every one of the past four days the unfolding construction of a corral. Yesterday, they had erected large canvas squares to create a type of covered hallway that stretched between the paddocks. This morning, they had added shepherd's crooks at each of the entries and hung glass-paned lanterns from them.

As she watched on, a swarthy dwarf with a type of bow-ledged, rolling gait emerged from the birch grove that sprung to life along that southern border. In his hands was what she could only assume was a halter strap, but what followed him caused her eyes to grow slightly wide. She had no idea what the barrel-chested animal was, but it was sturdy and heavily muscled.

Several people from the Cysaegir contingent had started collecting on the hillock to watch the filling of the corral. Ayleano had to smile when one of the other elders sent a young one down the hill to talk to the bow-legged dwarf. In typical fashion, the animated youth gestured up to those gathered on the hill as he spoke to the other man. The bearded man offered them a toothy grin and waved; a sea of mitten-covered waves greeted him back.

The young man ran back to them, just as a halfling and gnome contingent was venturing out of the same groove. The animals with the pair were very similar but different in coloration and speckling. Horns like corkscrews rose out of their heads like crooked spikes. They were lithe and graceful.

“Muntjacs,” the young man proclaimed when he breathlessly reached the top of the hill. “He says they are part of the what the Illistim Elves call the Cervidae Family.”

A gaggle of the smaller children began to rapidly ask questions of the young man, who grinning answered them all, having obviously had the same ones for the dwarf. When he was done, Ayleano turned to him and pointed at those with the halfling and gnome.

“And what are those?”

Grinning, the young man trundled down the hill again.

As the young man was talking animatedly with the gnome and halfling regarding their corkscrew-horned animal, the suddenly very busy birch grove began to rustle with several other beasts and men. This time, they were kilted giantkin in a variety of hues. The animal that followed them was positively enormous, the beasts’ shoulders towering over the heads of their two-legged companions.

Murmurs of excitement rippled across the hillock as the shovel-antlered animals stepped into sight.

A single, excited cry, broke through the murmurs.

“MOOSE!” was the cry.

Ayleano looked down with shock at the young lady who was grinning wide enough to split her face in half.

“Gran Gran sent me a drawing from when she was up north and she said that these are moose. She said that they were big, but I thought she was having fun because in the drawing people were walking under it and…” the child took a deep breath to continue. “I thought to myself, Nealloo, there is no way that there is an animal that big and … Oh no!”

Trying to hide her amusement, Ayleano quietly said, “What is it?”

Dejectedly, Nealloo said, “Now I owe her 5 silvers.”

Laughing, Ayleano turned her attention back to the young man coming up the hill.

“They are called antelope,” he announced with a grin.

Everyone was enamored by the other animals that came through the birch grove and were moved into the corral. The day was advancing towards noon when a sylvan contingent came through the foliage leading gazelles in various sizes and hues.

One of the herders came up to explain the difference between horns and antlers to the young aelotoi that gathered in surrounding sedge and grass, while the elders hosted lunch for the new arrivals. The communal feeling was infectious and the herders loved to talk about their charges.

A pall of silence settled on the area when the foliage rustled again. This time, there were so many beasts coming through that the children didn’t know where to look first. And, if she was to be honest, Ayleano didn’t either.

Chuckling, their sylvan guest began to name them as they came through…

“That group over there are deer,” he said pointing to the western edge. “You have stags, which are the old guys like me, and bucks which are the younger guys. There may be a doe mixed in, and that would be a lady deer.”

Shifting slightly, he pointed southerly from his previous location.

“The ones with the velvet on their ears, those are reindeer, the ones with the beards are caribou, and those broad ones with the very impressive array of antlers are elk.”

Smiling, the sylvan started to turn back to the children, but something caught his eye. Glancing to where he was staring with a transfixed expression, Ayleano saw something almost as big as the moose step proudly into the meadow.

Even the herders were stunned into silence at the pair of majestic creatures that had arrived.

Whispering quietly, Ayleano asked, “What are those?”

Never taking his eyes off of them, he replied, “Something out of legend.”