Ephemera — Jenestra Crow Shadow
????, Sea Season
Jenestra Crow-Shadow and the Magic Armour
This folktale was collected during ethnographic fieldwork in the villages surrounding Swenstown by Professor Ivanko.
This is the story of Jenestra Crow-Shadow and her magic armour. Jenestra was a child of the Rostari Clan, who are part of the Cloud Tribe. Jenestra, like many of the young people of her tribe, cared for her family’s flock of Cloud sheep. Each summer she would take her flock into the foothills to graze under her watchful eyes.
One Sea Season, her last season of shepherding because she would go through her initiation ceremony the following in Sacred Time, there were many rumours in Swenstown of bandits in the hills. Jenestra’s mother warned her to be extra careful and to stay alert, lest the bandits come for their flock. Mind you, if they did, she was not to fight, but rather to seek help from the others because what could one girl do against a group of outlawed men?
Jenestra promised her mother she would be wary. She led her flock to their usual shieling grounds, high up in the foothills. Sea Season was uneventful and Jenestra found herself becoming bored. This was her fifth season at the shieling and her third one alone, because her brother had left home to train in Swenstown after he initiated with the Temple of Humakt.
One warm day, as Yelm strode proudly in the sky, Jenestra took a nap. The sheep were fine. She had not seen another person in weeks. The wolves were not bothering her. She was just going to close her eyes for a few minutes. When she opened them again, Yelm had begun his descent and her family’s fine herd of Cloud sheep were nowhere to be seen.
Jenestra leapt to her feet in panic and searched the area around the shieling site, but she could not see them. She called out for the sheep, but she could not hear them. She put her hands to her face and began to weep.
At last, she wiped her eyes and considered her situation. They could not have disappeared without a trace. So even as the sky darkened she began her search again. Something small flitting about on the ground near a copse of trees drew her eyes. She approached and it launched itself into one of the trees, cawing at her. A crow. But where the crow had been, there was a tuft of fine white wool.
The crow cawed at her again, and flitted through the trees to the far side of the copse. Jenestra followed, finding a few more tufts of wool along the way. It was as though the crow was stopping on trees her sheep had brushed against. As they travelled through the little copse, it became harder and harder to see the crow in the darkness. Just when she thought she had lost him, Jenestra glimpsed movement ahead. He had picked up one of the tufts and was carrying it in his beak. The wool seemed almost to glow in the darkness as the crow led her along.
She followed him until she lost track of time, travelling through the foothills and into a forest. It was not long stepping between the trees that she could smell a fire and the scent of roasting meat. Carefully following the crow, picked her way through the trees until she could see a small group of armed men, sitting around a fire, eating and drinking together. So confident were they that they had not posted any guards. Beyond the men within the mouth of a cave, she could see and hear her flock. But, how could she rescue them?
Jenestra started to circle the bandits, when the crow suddenly landed on her shoulder. She froze then took a cautious step forward. The crow pecked at her cheek. He had been helping her for hours, so she did not want to ignore whatever message he was sending her. She took a step backwards and he allowed it. She tried forwards again, and again he pecked her cheek. Carefully and quietly, she stepped away from the bandits’ fire.
The crow seemed happy with this and took off from her shoulder, once again leading her with the white tuft of wool deeper into the darkness. Before long, she heard a snuffling sound. It was deep and the hairs on the back of her neck lifted. She took a step forward and stopped, as out of the darkness rose the form of a great white bear.
Before Jenestra could react, the crow alighted on her shoulder once again. From somewhere beside the bear a rumbling voice called out: “Stand down, Korl. It’s just a child and little Sharp-Eye.” The voice belonged to a man who would have seemed the size of a bear, if Korl had not been so very large. “What brings you to me?” he asked Jenestra. The man was called Eorda and he was a follower of Odayla. He listened to her story and thought carefully.
“I cannot rescue your sheep for you, as Korl and I are hunting bigger trouble than a few bandits. But I can give you some aid.” From his massive forearm, he removed a huge bronze vambrace. He studied Jenestra before he tore the vambrace in two with only his hands. Then, with a mighty effort, he bent the two pieces to make a pair of vambraces that were sized for the girl before him. “Take these, child. They will give you the strength of Odayla, should you need it.”
She thanked Eorda for his gift and said goodbye as they parted ways in the dark woods. She buckled the bronze onto her arms and it felt as though the armour weighed nothing at all.
“Sharp-Eye?” she asked the crow and received a light peck on her cheek before he swept up into the dark trees, leading her in the opposite direction of the bear and his person. She picked her way carefully through the forest, always following Sharp-Eye the crow.
After what seemed like another long hour, just as Jenestra was beginning to grow tired, she stepped around a tree and found herself face to face with a hunter. Clad in dark leathers, with her hood obscuring her face, and a wicked looking dagger in her hand, the hunter was a terrifying figure. Jenestra froze, but then reached for her own tiny knife, determined not to become prey. Sharp-Eye flew down to her shoulder again and the hunter stepped back, lowering her blade.
“Hello Sharp-Eye the Swift,” she said. “Who is this you have brought to me?” She lifted a hand and from somewhere above and behind Jenestra, a shadow cat appeared. It dropped lightly from a tree to land on the earth beside Jenestra. As it stalked past her, its tail flicked lightly, before it wound itself around the back of the hunter, finally staring up at the young shepherd with glinting amber eyes.
Jenestra told her story again and the dark-eyed hunter listened carefully. “Shadow Stalker and I cannot help you, for we are on a journey of great importance for our kin. But I must do something to aid you. Take these, they will allow you to stalk like an alynx, should the need arise.” And with that she unbuckled a set of dark bronze greaves from her own legs and gave them to the girl standing before her.
Jenestra buckled the greaves into place on her shins and stood up. She did not feel like she could leap like a shadow cat, but she admired the beautiful bronze. Sharp-Eye led the way again, and once again she followed. As she moved through the woods, barely a sound could be heard.
By this time, it was so late that Yelm must have been stirring in his sleep, thinking about waking up. When Sharp-Eye next stopped, it was back to where Jenestra’s flock was enclosed. The bandits were sleeping soundly, next to the smoldering remains of their night’s fire. The sheep were inside the cave beyond.
Jenestra considered the situation while Sharp-Eye considered her. She stepped carefully towards the sleeping men, finding as she did so, that her feet made no sound. She crept past the bandits and into the cave. Eleven Cloud sheep were huddled together, baaing sorrowfully. She had her sheep, but how was she to get them out of here? One of the yearlings butted up against her legs and started for the mouth of the cave. She scooped him into her arms to stop him from waking the bandits by trodding on them. She stopped in surprise. It was as though he weighed nothing.
Thus her plan was formed. One by one, she carried her sheep out of the cave, creeping past the sleeping men. They mumbled and grunted as they slept, but none of the bandits woke up. Eventually, they would wake up, and they would come looking for their prize. She needed a way to stop them.
Jenestra carefully lifted the first bandit up. Like the sheep, he seemed to weigh no more than a cloud. She brought him into the cave and laid him gently on the ground. She carried each of his comrades into the cave too and set them all on the ground side by side. She crept back outside, leaving the sleeping men behind. Sharp-Eye was watching her from a perch on a fallen tree. She picked up the entire tree and placed it across the mouth of the cave. It would not really keep the men trapped, but it would make them wonder who or what had put it there.
She led her little flock to back to her family’s shieling site, following the path set out by Sharp-Eye the crow. The rest of the season passed uneventfully, except that Sharp-Eye and Jenestra became inseparable. When she returned home, her family was unhappy that one of the sheep had been lost, but happy that their daughter and the rest of the flock were safe. They were not completely sure what to think of Sharp-Eye, but he stayed with Jenestra for the rest of his life.
When she initiated, she became a follower of Yinkin. Together, Jenestra Crow-Shadow, Sharp-Eye the Swift, and Cloud-Catcher the alynx, hunted the forests of Sartar and many are the stories that people tell of their adventures.