Discover more from The Cascadia Chronicles
Chapter 1: The Campfire
In which we meet our adventurers.
Previously, on The Blue Beacon:
Eola Lightstripe’s eyes were locked on a fire crackling warm and tangerine bright, surrounded by a ring of stones inside the late summer blue hour.
There were three other mammals around the fire along with Eola,1 travelers who’d spent the previous five days traversing forests and rivers and settlements on a path east from the foothills at the west edge of Grapevine Valley. Above them was a canopy of alders, leaves slowly shading green to gold, underlit by the campfire. The campsite was on the edge of a meadow in the folds of the hills west of Bridge City, which was where the companions were headed.
Eola unlocked her eyes from the flame and looked up. The sun was down and the sky dimmed toward indigo. The stars over Cascadia dazzled, the Milky Way a soft white gleam. Bats hunted. Crickets sawed their songs. The moon was low and full and yellow, shrouded in firs on the eastern horizon.
There were scents of all kinds: of stews bubbling and bread baking in settled homes nearby; of the orchards and forests of firs which shrouded the moon; of the loam and slow water of creek bottoms; of cool air passing over the land, fall’s prelude.
The main light towering over the dale was the Beacon, the highest structure any of the travelers knew, a remnant of the era when the prime mammals ruled. On this night, like most others for as long as anyone could remember, the Beacon stood blinking a cool blue, like moonlight through a sapphire.
That wasn’t the only light, though. There were a handful of cookfires scattered across the hillside, and an old church and a neighborhood garden. Below the tower, in the folds of the hills, was a brighter illumination.
“What’s that glow?” Eola asked.
Bajo2 Blackring, a raccoon who was born on the eastside of Bridge City, glanced up from staring at the flame. The fire danced in his masked eyes as he followed Eola’s gaze out over the valley.
“That’s the Wells, the town center for these hills. They make some of the best cheese and ice cream in Cascadia.”
“I see,” Eola was intrigued. “Are we going that way?”
“Not planning to,” Bajo said from across the fire. His waxed cloak hung loosely around him, black and faded gray on the creases. His staff was propped against his pack nearby. The raccoon flexed his hind paws near the warmth of the flames. Then he turned toward Arrick Illahe, a Humboldt marten, who was checking the lines on each of his arrows.
“If we aren’t stopping at the Wells, do we at least have time for Griggs + Belknap?”
“Let’s get to Southfront first before we think about shopping,” answered Arrick “Coins just dig tunnels out of your pocket, don’t they?”
“Last I heard they had something special for us, so don’t even act like you aren’t curious,” said Bajo. “And they always have bolas. I’d trade one of my cousins for a decent bola.”
Arrick knew this offer was facetious, though it was true Bajo had 148 cousins and a few were truly unpleasant.
“Again with the bolas,” the marten said. “Why not try something new? Something more…available?”
Bajo folded his arms.
“Come on, how many times have you been glad we had a bola when a bounty ran on us?”
The marten considered this, then replied, “Maybe once.”
“How about Bull Mountain?”
“Once and a half,” said Arrick after some consideration, then he focused back on his sharpening.
“That’s at least two times bolas saved us and you know it!” said Bajo. “Now are we gonna eat or what?”
The firelight glittered off the edge of Arrick’s arrowhead, and the Humboldt marten nodded in satisfaction.
“Until you get a bola or an upgrade, someone’s gotta be ready at range.”
“Aw, those are plenty honed,” replied the raccoon with a wave of his paw. “You gotta remember how some of us have bigger stomachs and less perfectionism.”
Arrick’s paws rasped the whetstone smoothly over the sharpened steel. Across his wiry torso was a splash of sunburst orange with a diagonal stripe in the vibrant fur from where his quiver and bow were typically slung. Arrick’s cloak was a frayed patchwork of fabrics speckled every spectrum of green.
After days of travel, Eola knew the duo well enough to appreciate their banter, but her stomach was grumbling. She turned away from the blinking blue toward the flickering orange of the fire, which shined off the gold-toned stripes of her muzzle. Eola was a badger, the largest of the travelers, and also the youngest. Her cloak was fir bark brown, unadorned, roughspun from wool. She’d met the other three travelers in Grapevine Valley, where she was assigned by the Vintner to follow along, provide broad shoulders, and listen to where her walkabout led. She enjoyed her companions competency and care, and they, in turn, appreciated her curiosity, enthusiasm, and sheer hauling strength.
Between Bajo and Eola, perched on a log a little back from the heat, was the fourth member of their party, Ophir, the smallest of the companions. Eola thought she looked like some sort of squirrel, an especially adorable one, with wide dark eyes and the most intricate cloak Eola had ever seen. The fabric was a deep and velvety maroon fringed at the edges with feathery green fronds. The chic little creature was silent and mysterious, and while Eola wondered, she felt hesitant to pry, sensing the squirrel’s background was somehow unmentionable, at least for now. Despite her silence, Ophir was expressive in gestures, calm in demeanor, and always eager to help despite her small stature. All Eola knew for details was Ophir bore a secret, and they’d each agreed to protect her at any cost.
Eola’s mind and paws wandered toward the provisions in her pack: a Gala apple, fresh-picked, flecked in gold and red; a well-aged wedge of sharp orange cheddar wrapped in loose-woven cloth; and biscuits—the finest she’d ever tasted, though now a day old—with a little jar of strawberry jam picked up in Beaver Township. As she unpacked dinner, she wondered if Bajo and Arrick had enough smoked salmon to share.
Arrick studied the edge of his arrowhead before neatly tucking the arrow away in his quiver.
“Alright, let’s eat.”
Eola dug out a small satchel of roasted almonds, hazelnuts, and a carrot, which she handed to Ophir, who accepted the meal with paws pressed together and a grateful nod. Then Eola plucked out the apple and biscuits and cheese and jam and sliced some of the cheese with a pocketknife and spread some of the jam on the biscuit. She missed home for a moment, and her heart was heavy at the thought of grapes ripening from green to purple in the sun. She blinked to bring herself back to the present.
Across the fire, Bajo set a hunk of smoked salmon on the top of a log, then two Galas next to the fish, and then unwrapped two bagels and a jar of soft cheese. Arrick sliced one of the bagels with his knife, spreading a thin layer of the cheese over the top. He topped this with chunks of smoked salmon and a pinch of cracked pepper.
“Eola, you want some of this?” Arrick asked.
She nodded eagerly and got up to walk around the fire, where she tore off a crumbling corner of the filet. She sniffed the salmon, salty and satisfying, with a hint of marshmallowy alder smoke.
Then they paused, and breathed deep breaths, and took in the moon and land around them: the deepening blue twilight, the crackling fire, and Bajo prayed.
“Great Spirit, bless this meal. We are small creatures. Guide our paws and hearts and minds.”
Then they ate.
Eola is pronounced yo-la
Bajo is pronounced bah-joe