Chapter One

It was one of those perfect summer days that made everyone want to go outside just for the sake of enjoying the day. The sun was shining, the wind was at a breeze that was just gentle enough to keep things cool and the bugs away, and there wasn't even a cloud in the sky. Someone could tell it was early summer because the buzzing of cicadas carried on the breeze. It was so perfect in fact that Caelan Amaron decided to take a break from his journey to take a rest beneath a fair-sized elm tree that was just off the side of the road. After getting comfortable and adjusting himself between the exposed roots that shot up throughout the immediate earth he took a piece of dried fruit from his traveling satchel, he also kept items he needed for traveling including a neatly folded cloak for inclement weather, and popped it into his mouth then chewed thoughtfully.

Since the very beginning, he had explored the woods and caverns near his home with nothing but a lantern or torch to guide his way so it came as no surprise to his parents that he wanted to go on an adventure to see the world. He wanted to find his own place in it and help heal people in need.

Caelan was no ordinary boy, his mother was a holy being called an Aune made mortal by the Goddess herself so that she might be with her human lover. Unfortunately, that meant she had lost her powers over time as well, still, Caelan inherited that bloodline from her which made him half Aune. His parents, Greil and Jordyn, were deeply protective of him and never let him stray too far during his younger years. Now they respected his right to go out into the world and forge his own path now that he was older.
Even if he would long outlive a human he matured at just the same rate so years passed, and the boy grew into a young man eager to set out on his journey. Thus he set off to find his own path in life, and where it was he belonged. Caelan had been on his own for a few months now since the beginning of spring and was traveling from town to town.

Caelan was near a village and he'd be there in another ten minutes or so actually. Even though he was capable of flying the distance if he wished to, he had decided that he wanted to walk there on his own two legs. It was better exercise and he wanted to prove that he could make it on his own without the benefit of his Aune blood. No one had to tell him that it seemed hypocritical to use his powers to heal but that was different to him because he was helping others and not simply himself.

The young man didn't even know the name of the village but to him not knowing what was around the next bend in the road was sort of exciting in his mind. He was really doing this all by himself. He had no one to answer to but himself. It was wonderful but he still had a self-mandated responsibility to heal those that needed him.

Being that it was such a nice day out it wasn't long before Caelan's head started to nod off and his eyes closed for a little rest. Just when his mind started to drift to that place between consciousness and sleep the sound of soft footsteps woke him up. He swore he heard a faint female voice mutter something about his nice boots under her breath. His eyes opened to find that there was a moose right in front of his face! Caelan cried out in alarm and the sudden surprise caused him to whack his head back against the stout birch tree.

"Ow!" Caelan winced. He tried to shove the curious moose away and just prayed that it wouldn't become aggressive but then he noticed that it wasn't a moose at all. Well, it was in a sense. In truth, it was a girl wearing a moose skin over her head complete with antlers and snout intact! Caelan's brow furrowed. "Ah, you startled me."

"Sorry! I didn't mean to," The girl blushed faintly as she realized that what happened must have looked very strange. "I was just curious is all."

"I wouldn't worry about it," The half-Aune smiled at her blush. "My name is Caelan Amaron. Who are you?"

"My name is Beebee Vale and I live nearby with my mother. I was travelin' to a meadow nearby to pick some summer berries and forage some food when I spotted you here. Thought I would come say hi seein' that you're a new face around here but you were sleepin' and I didn't want to wake you. I was about to leave when you woke up. What about you? Are you some prince from a far-off land? I mean your clothes seem fancy enough Sir Caelan." She reached out to touch his clothing much like a child has to touch everything around them to learn more about the world. The girl spoke with a cadence all her own that some might mistake for an accent and had rose-gold hair that spilled from the moose head to frame her cheeks.

"Ah no. My clothes are simply well-made for traveling. I am not a prince, I am just a traveler out to see some of the world before settling down," In fact, Caelan had always thought that his simple cotton tunic and leather breeches were sort of dull. That was the way he wanted it, Caelan didn't want to draw any kind of attention to himself, he simply wanted to fit in and belong wherever he went. They didn't have any flashy colors or ornate designs hemmed into them that a true noble might have. Still, he found that she thought so strangely endearing. "I've taken on a sort of self-imposed pilgrimage by traveling to towns in the Valley of Ciley and healing the sick. I want to do some good with my gift."

Now that he was able to get a good look at her he noticed that the girl was too thin. She wasn't emaciated but seemed to be about fifteen to twenty pounds underweight for a girl her age and size, but what surprised him most was that she was practically the same size he was, which was to say, very short. She was wearing rags as well as the moose skin that hung loosely around her limbs so he could see how her perspective on his clothes might be somewhat skewed. Beebee's own clothes seemed like they had been sown and repaired far too many times.

The girl looked stunned by his words as if an answer to her prayers had been granted. Sadly Caelan knew that look all too well by now. He had seen it in the eyes of the loved one of those he healed.

"Really? Do you think you could help cure my ma'? We live really close by; you wouldn't have to go far. Please, she's all I have left after papa disappeared." She pleaded with him and he felt that she wouldn't be above getting on her hands and knees to secure his help. This didn't make her seem weak in his eyes at all. On the contrary, he admired her even more now that she was willing to go to such lengths to help her mother. It took strength to put aside your own personal pride and ask another for help when you alone couldn't shoulder that burden anymore.

Caelan hesitated a moment and thought carefully about his response. He didn't want to get her hopes up that her mother might be cured especially since he didn't even know what the woman was ailing from. True healing magic was very draining on many levels and took an inner strength that only a few people possessed. In most cases, the worse off the person was the worse off he would be if he tried to heal them through magical means. In the worst cases, he would have to stay for multiple healing sessions to purge the body of all of its maladies.

"I don't know. It depends on how sick your mother is but I can always try. Lead the way." Perhaps in time, he would ask her what it was that had happened to her father.

Beebee had wanted to gather food first before returning home as it wouldn't make sense to have Caelan heal her mother and then have nothing to feed her so that she could gain her strength back. She took Caelan to a nearby meadow that was through a stand of elm trees just off from the road. The path was little more than an animal trail and it was rough going through some trick brush but they made it after ten or fifteen minutes of walking. It seemed to Caelan that she was the one that felt responsible for her sick mother and had to keep everything together at home by herself. Once they both got started digging for tubers Caelan decided to get to know her a little better.
"So, I understand that you are out here foraging for food, but why don't you have a garden for that?"

"I did, but I swear a boar straight from the pit of the Abyss broke down my fence and ruined it all," Beebee's features took on a saddened expression. "I swear sometimes I have the worst luck imaginable. Maybe I am cursed. I know that I should have preemptively set some traps out just in case. Guess I lose, huh? Winter is going to be real rough this year. Oh well, I'll make due. Anything is edible if you're hungry enough."

"I am sorry to hear that," Caelan felt for the young girl, he had been lucky to never want for anything in his life. He decided to change the subject and began to glean more information from the girl. "So how long has your mother been sick? Is she bedridden? What are her symptoms like?" Caelan had a million more questions that he wanted to ask but for Beebee's sake, he decided to ease them on her.

"She's been sick for years now and she can't get out of bed on her own. There is a herbalist in Willowbrook who gives me a concoction for her. It helps ease her cough and clammy skin somewhat but not much else. The herbalist said that was all she could do for her. Please let's just hurry and collect these tubers and quickly check my snares so I can get back to her. I don't want to leave her alone for long."

Most diseases had specific behaviors just like animals and humans did. Tendencies such as who it attacked and where in the body it manifested. All this information, as well as the situation that could have caused the malady in the first place and so much more, was crucial in identifying the disease. Patient history was also of paramount importance. Did a defect within the family make catching the disease easier? Did they go someplace where they may have contracted it? Suffice to say Caelan had a lot of work to do. Hopefully, he would be able to find something that helped to narrow his focus.

Down on his hands and knees, Caelan helped to dig up the sweet turnip-like plants alongside Beebee. Working with dark rich soil between his fingers always lifted Caelan's mood. He noticed that Beebee had a small hand spade which she used to dig, Caelan was forced to use his hands but he had leather gloves on that protected them.

Once they collected enough to satisfy Beebee she handed him a piece of scrap cloth to wrap the bundle in and he tucked the reedy plants into his leather satchel that he used to keep all his personal effects while traveling.

"There's some blackberry bushes nearby. I want to get some of those as well before we leave 'cause they are ripe this time of year." Beebee led him to the edge of the meadow clearing where the bushes were growing. They each picked their fill and stored them in their packs. "Well I think we got all we need, let's head back home. After we see my mother perhaps I can take you to town. I am sure the others there will be thankful for a healer and set you up at the inn and give you ah... food that is more substantial than what I can offer."

Caelan didn't point out her error in speaking the common language, it was just part of her eccentricity. That said she gestured at him to follow suit and Beebee took off to her home with Caelan in tow.

The trek back to Beebee's home didn't take long, just a mere half-hour to an hour from what Caelan could tell judging by the position of the sun in the sky. During that time the pair made idle conversation which allowed Caelan to learn that Beebee was just a year younger than he was which put her at seventeen. That meant she was fast approaching the age of adulthood, which meant she was almost old enough to marry and start a family of her own. He wondered, offhand if she had any boys from town courting her. The young woman was pretty enough to warrant that particular kind of attention. Well if she ditched the whole moose hide look that is.

"So, you're seventeen? That makes you as old as the cicadas we hear buzzing around. Can I call you Buzzbuzz instead of Beebee?" Caelan teased her in a friendly manner.

"No, you certainly can't. I've half-a-mind to make up a silly nickname for you now. Just you wait, I'll think of something good eventually and it will stick with you forever."

Beebee answered as they approached the house. Beebee had noticed that while Caelan didn't outright stutter his words he would slur them very occasionally. It was interesting learning about someone. She never really had anyone her age to talk with before.

Caelan didn't have much time to explore the home. In fact, he only got to see what was along the path up to the home itself. There was a small garden growing in a tilled patch of dirt just off to the side of the log hut. The small garden didn't look like it would sustain two people for the year so that was why Beebee had to go out into the fields surrounding her home to forage and hunt. The fruits and vegetables in the garden weren't even ripe yet this early in the year as summer had just started.

The little hut was situated within a clearing of the mostly mixed evergreen-deciduous boreal hardwood forest that covered most of the entire valley and not far away Caelan could see the Misty lake and the town of Willowbrook on the far side of it.

"I have some lines out in the lake for fish but I checked those this morning before I left. Nothing was on them but at least they were still baited with bits of soap though so I will have to check again in a couple of hours. We can wash up before dinner out there too." Beebee said.

"Soap huh? Does that actually work?" Caelan was skeptical about that but he kept a respectful tone in his voice and an open mind. Caelan did catch sight of strange white algae on top of the far side of the lake near Willowbrook and he thought it was odd but before he could ask another question about it Beebee answered.

"Oh ya. They are attracted to the animal fat that's in it and the bits that fall off just end up leading the fish to your hook. It's a trick my pa taught me but enough of that. Please come inside," Beebee said as she made her way onto the porch and opened the door for him. With a grateful nod, Caelan entered the home after her but he couldn't help but notice that it was hard for her to speak about her father. At first glance, it seemed fairly quaint but it was small. Just one common room that held the kitchen, living room and fireplace. Off near the back was a door which Caelan assumed led to a separate bedroom. It seemed Beebee did her best to keep things clean but Caelan saw that parts of the home were falling apart, especially the roof. It was likely that repairs hadn't been done after winter ended or even for a long while before that. "Sorry about the house. It's just so much to keep up with. Mother and I aren't very good with tools even when she was feeling well. The repairs were father's responsibility."

"Don't worry, I understand. You have more important things on your mind right now like looking after your mother." From what Beebee said it seemed that her father disappeared some time ago. It took a while for a home to get into this state but the winters were harsh in the valley.

"Set the tubers here." Beebee patted a bare space on the table. Caelan dug through his pack and put them down with Beebee's own bundle. "I'll prepare some stew later but for right now please follow after me. I'll take you to my mother."

Beebee strode to the farthest door and opened it. The room was bare with not much more than a battered chest to keep clothes and other trinkets in. Beebee's mother occupied the only other piece of furniture in the room which was the bed.

"Beebee? Is that you? I heard two people come in. If you be robbers there ain't nothin' here to take." The middle-aged woman's voice sounded weak and labored.

"No mama, it's me and I have brought a guest. His name is Caelan and he said he would try and treat your illness. I met him on the road while I was out. He isn't from around here," The tone Beebee took was pained; it was the kind of tone that only those with a seriously ill loved one could have. "Caelan, this is my mom Susan."

"Hello, ma'am. I just want you to know that I am here to help. I have done this before many times." In fact, healing was how he made it this far on his journey. Grateful families took him in and fed him. They offered him warm places to sleep on most nights. Others donated what coin they could so that he could buy food or stay at inns. "I also ask for nothing in return for my service. I just want you to get better."

Both Caelan and Beebee stood by Susan's bedside quietly waiting for her to respond. "Really lad? You think you can help me? I feel on the brink of death itself and the herbalist in town couldn't even help. They could only help manage my symptoms. What makes you think that you can? Or that I would even let you? You seem young. Too young to know anything about curing me."

"Please mom, for once give a stranger the benefit of the doubt instead of worrying about if they have something to gain. He isn't asking for anything except our acceptance of his help. Besides, I really need your help. I can't do all of this alone anymore." Beebee sighed softly and from her words, Caelan noted that Susan's suspicious demeanor was a point of contention between the two.

"It is quite alright. If someone claimed to be able to cure me after many years of being sick I would be a skeptic too. I can answer a few questions and I will do so truthfully. If you still do not wish my help then I will leave. You won't get to truly know me with just a few questions but perhaps I can put some fears to rest at least. So let's all just sit down and get to know one another." Caelan said as they all settled down for a good long talk together.