Chapter One: Return to Erârün
The return to Erârün was long, and quiet. Without the knowledge of the Hochträe’s tongue, Elven was largely left in silence, and in silence he preferred to stay. He seemed not to have Brandyé’s gift for communication, and found himself mystified by the lyrical and thoroughly incomprehensible language the folk around him kept to themselves. Every so often one of them would attempt to speak to him in his own tongue, but by necessity his answers were always short and succinct, and they would eventually leave him be.
Neither he nor they seemed overly affected by this; Elven no longer had any particular interest in the Hochträe, and they seemed to understand this peacefully. In fact, Elven thought he would have preferred to make the journey alone, although he could not deny the comfort of having someone else hunt and prepare meals for him (and the camp at large). As the days wore on, he found his thoughts began to center solely on one thing, and that was discovering Talya’s fate.
Early in their journey, he wrote a short note detailing his plans on a scrap of leather torn from his pack, and bid Sonora, his falcon, to bear it to Talya, wherever she might be. The last time he had laid eyes on her, she had been hiding amongst the rocks of the Reinkrag mountains, fleeing from the oncoming army of Darkness from the north along with hundreds of frightened villagers and no soldiers to speak of. His heart ached at the thought, and he wondered often what madness had driven him to follow Brandyé into the ever-clouded peaks and away from the woman he loved.
It was a curious thing, he thought, to have such feelings for another person. Never in all his youth had anyone spoken of love as something harbored for another person, though now he came to realize it, he had always loved his parents, his family … his fallen sister. Rather, even the folk of Consolation, the one land that had for centuries escaped the fate of Darkness, married for convenience and prosperity, and the very word love was reserved for tasty meals and warm, sun-filled afternoons.
Such afternoons were now a time-wearied memory, for soon after departing from the Hochträe’s mountain realms, the ever-present clouds swarmed in upon them again, and each day wore on in bleak grayness, each night only a few shades darker than the day. Elven had known such skies for so long that the brief respite among the sunny peaks of the Hochträe felt almost an anomaly—that the return to desolation marked a return to everyday normality.
Elven found himself longing for normality, clouded or not. In his time with Brandyé he had known adventure and excitement, but also sadness and death, and he discovered he was dreadfully weary of it. The moment he found Talya, he resolved, he would ask her to marry, and they would find a home, and he would never leave it again. Perhaps he would even take her back to his parents, left so far behind in the forests of the Trestaé.
To this end, Elven was at times uneasy with the direction they were taking. He understood that the Hochträe wished to visit the kingdom of Erârün, and the most sensible destination was the great city of Vira Weitor to the south. Yet this was in fact leading him away from the last place he knew Talya to be, in the western fringes of the mountains. Some days he was overcome with the urge to abandon the party and set out on his own, and only two things prevented him from doing so: that the folk he traveled with had set out with him and because of him, and that so much time had passed that it was unlikely he would find Talya still hidden in the refuge caves of the Rein. Before their parting they had not discussed what they would do should they not be immediately reunited, and Elven cursed himself for this. However, it seemed sensible to him that she would make for a place that was well-known to both of them if she could, and he held hope that Vira Weitor might be that place. If not, he told himself, he would seek her out where they had met: the far southern village of Hansel’s Foil. Failing that, he would not rest; there were many more places in the world in which to seek for her.
As their passage through the mountains wore on, these thoughts consumed him, and he found himself searching the clouded skies daily for a sign that Sonora was returning, but for many weeks there was no sign of the bird. Instead, he would see only crows, and this unsettled him, for Brandyé had once told him that such birds were in the service of the Duithèn: of Darkness.
Of the other creatures of Darkness, however, they saw nothing: whether by chance or fate, the fierundé seemed uninterested or unwilling to pursue them. This was one of Elven’s greatest fears, for although the Hochträe seemed to possess great martial skill, he had yet to see even a battalion of soldiers hold their own against a pack of the dreadful wolves, except perhaps those of the Illuèn. If there was a third reason he stayed with the host of Hochträe, it was this: he knew he would not last a minute against even a single fierund.
Although they were thus largely left in peace, their journey was not without difficulty; rain and mud often made the going difficult, and the lay of the land seemed to work against them: the valleys seemed all arranged from east to west, meaning they had either to make great detours around the mountain peaks, or attempt to pass directly over them. On one such try one of their donkeys lost its footing and fell, and so they lost not only a beast of burden but many of their supplies also.
Illness, too, they had to combat; although it was the time of year for spring, the weather nonetheless beat down upon them, and their high altitude meant the rain would often turn to sleet and snow. The folk of the Hochträe, unused to such persistently bad weather, found themselves succumbing to cold and flu, and Elven became busy seeking remedies in the woods. His own health he was able to maintain, but only through effort and wisdom; he had trekked with Brandyé through rain and cold many times before, and knew how to keep warm and dry.
Then there came a day when the land changed, and they descended from a series of long hills to find themselves at the edge of a vast lake. Elven was reminded of coming across such a lake with Brandyé in the Trestaé, but if that one had stretched a dozen miles this one must have stretched a hundred, for its edges were lost to sight. Then, with Brandyé, they had had little choice but to attempt to circumnavigate the lake, but here the Hochträe fell to the trees with axe and hatchet, and soon had a series of great rafts built that could house four men to a one, and their donkeys (provided the donkeys remained dreadfully still).
So they set out, and Elven found himself on a raft with two other Hochträe, one of whom seemed to know his tongue slightly better than the others.
“New land we come to,” he said to Elven.
“What do you mean?” Elven asked.
The man pointed behind them, to the north, and said, “Naiya,” which Elven knew was the name the Hochträe kept for themselves. “Hochträe,” the man said, as if to affirm Elven’s thought. Then he pointed to the northwest and said, “Reinkrag,” which Elven knew was the name of the mountains they had come from. The man seemed proud of himself that he knew the names of these places in Elven’s own tongue.
And so Elven pointed to the south, over the dark windswept waves of the lake, and said, “New land?”
The man nodded and smiled. “Irō-pa. Üthervaye!”
So Elven came to understand that they were entering a new line of mountains, and this lake served to divide the Reinkrag to the north from the Üthervaye to the south. He wondered how the Hochträe knew this, but the man seemed unable to explain beyond, “It is the way of the mountains.”
The lake’s length followed a southerly direction, and it was certainly faster progress than walking, though they remained in easy view of the shore at any given time. When the wind rose they would retreat to the banks of the river, create fire from the woods and camp. The Hochträe seemed adept at survival in general, for they appeared equally comfortable in the air, on the water or on land, and they were just as skilled at fishing as at hunting. The lake boasted many large fish, and for life in the middle of the wilderness, Elven was comfortable.
Then a day came when things began to go wrong, and it started with Sonora’s return. So many days had passed since Sonora had left his side that Elven had nearly forgotten to look for her, and so it was with great surprise that he looked to the gray skies around noon to see a familiar black speck approaching in the distance. He was sitting in the middle of the raft as they coursed gently down the lake, the water today stiller than usual. The Hochträe treated him as a guest and would not let him paddle, and so he often had little to do on these daily trips. Walking provided the distraction of physical movement; here there was nothing but himself and his thoughts.
Within moments the speck revealed itself as the headlong rush of feathers that he knew as Sonora, and soon she was circling above their craft. The Hochträe of his raft stopped their paddling momentarily to look upon her, speaking to each other in their own language and smiling.
Elven could not keep the smile from his own face, and retrieved the gauntlet he used with the bird from his pack and laced it over his forearm. With a delicate flutter the falcon settled herself upon it, and he lowered his arm under her familiar weight.
It was then that he noticed the note tied still to her leg—the very same, it seemed, that he had sent her away with. For a moment his heart stopped in his chest, for never in his life had Sonora returned without delivering a message. With swift fingers he undid the knot, and knew it as his own.
Yet a part of him said to be still—that perhaps Talya had merely replied to him on the same scrap of leather, not having the tools to write upon herself. When the note was released, Sonora leapt down from his arm and settled herself on the floor of the raft, peering nervously at the water all around her.
Elven unfolded the note. On it was written nothing but his own short piece:
I am returning to Vira Weitor, though it may take several months. I will wait for you there.
He flipped the scrap of leather over, but it was bare on the reverse. He flipped again, reread his own writing, wondering if he was missing some clue, some subtle unwritten message that Talya might have sent back with Sonora.
Yet there seemed to be nothing but the note he had sent the falcon away with weeks ago. With nervous hands he folded the note into his pack, and leaned to pat Sonora’s head. “You did well, dear,” he said to her. “I’m sorry you couldn’t find her.”
The bird looked up at him with a disdainful look, as though he was somehow implying she had not tried hard enough. So human was the look that Elven could not help but laugh. “I’m not blaming you!” he said. “But I do worry—where could Talya be?”
What he did not voice aloud was his worst thought; that the reason Sonora had not delivered the note was that Talya had gone somewhere he could not follow.
Later that night, they stopped by a shallow creek that fed into the great lake through a series of bogs and marshes, and Elven could not help but think they could have picked a better spot. Almost as soon as they landed, he was beset by swarms of mosquitoes and midges, and spent the evening futilely swatting them away. The Hochträe, oddly, seemed unaffected, and laughed at his antics. “At home we have bites,” they told him. “They are bigger!”
“You’re just lucky to have me around,” Elven grumbled. “Without me they’d have no choice but to feed on you!” He shuffled closer to the fire, whose smoke seemed to help keep the insects at bay. He wrapped himself as fully as he could, but by the morning he was nonetheless covered with great, red spots that itched like nothing he had known before.
The morning brought with it cooler air, and the persistent attacks died away. Elven insisted they wait for him as he searched the woods for soothing plant leaves, but after an hour they were calling him to leave, and he had found nothing. In a foul mood he retreated to the rafts, and they set out on the day’s journey.
As the day went on the itch slowly faded, and Elven found himself scratching less and less. A cold, soothing wind rose from the north, and Elven found that if he sat backward on the raft with his face to the wind, he could almost forget the mild agony he was in.
With the wind, however, came waves, and the rafts began to bob roughly up and down. Soon there were strong gusts, and Elven could see far in the distance black storm clouds descending from the hills. The horizon faded into a haze of coming rain, and soon drops were falling on them with increasing rapidity.
“We need to go ashore!” Elven called to the Hochträe on his raft. The looked at him without understanding, and he vehemently pointed toward the lake’s shore. “We must go there, now!” To reinforce his thought, he pointed back at the closing storm, and they followed his finger, and nodded. As they shifted their position on the raft and began to call out their intentions to the others, Elven saw a great shaft of lightning reach out from the sky and seem to strike the lake not a mile distant, and a moment later came the ominous roll of thunder.
It was only just past midday by the time they beached their craft, but the sky was thick and black, and the rain was pouring down torrentially. Every now and then the sky with illuminate with brilliant lightning, and Elven was reminded of the great storm he and Brandyé had suffered through in the Trestaé. He was reluctant to enter the woods, for he knew there was the chance of lightning striking a tree near to them, and he had no desire to break his leg again. Yet he knew they would be drier under the branches, and so followed the Hochträe as they progressed a quarter mile inland to where the rain was less.
Eventually they came to a stop near a stream (one that, fortunately, did not seem to be home to any variety of biting insects), and Elven helped them set up a series of small tents. When they crawled under and were sheltered from the rain (though not from the wet ground), Elven thought perhaps they might just survive the storm, despite the sounds of the sky being torn asunder that seemed to come from directly over their heads.
There was nothing to speak of, and as the Hochträe in his tent tried without luck to start a small fire, Elven listened to the patter of rain, the crack of thunder and the rush of wind, and began to doze. Eventually he settled himself into a lying position on the ground, his pack as a pillow, and with Sonora curled close to his head, he passed into sleep.
His slumber could not have lasted more than a few minutes, however, before he was startled awake by the loudest crack of thunder yet, and a brilliant flash that seemed to burn right through his closed eyelids. A shout came from one of the nearby tents, and for a moment Elven waited, breathless, for the sounds of falling trees or crackling flames.
Neither came, however, and when he followed the Hochträe out of the tent and into the rain, it was to find everything as it had been—undisturbed, wet and dark. It seemed it had been a cry of surprise more than alarm, and Elven was about to turn back to reenter the tent when without warning the very ground itself seemed to tremble, and he was thrown to his knees.
There was no sound this time, however, and no lightning flash to precede; only a great tremor underfoot, and then suddenly the world seemed to fade entirely from Elven’s sight. At first he thought perhaps he had closed his eyes, but he blinked several times and raised his hands to his face, and realized he could not see them at all. It was as if all light had suddenly been extinguished from the world, and in the distance he heard Sonora’s frightened call.
For an endless moment his sightlessness continued, and he heard the Hochträe crying to each other and knew it was not just him. He did not dare to stand, and remained on his knees, the rain still falling on his shoulders, waiting.
And then, as if to contradict the abyssal blackness, a flash brighter than any he had yet known seared his open eyes, and he was deafened by a vicious crack of thunder and smelled burning air. The ground’s trembling seemed to fade, and slowly, the world came back into view.
Finally Elven stood shakily, and looked around him. Beside him were the Hochträe that shared his tent, and not too far in the distance were several others. They were also looking about them, and Elven could hear the frightened note in their voices, though he could not understand their words. For a moment he was overcome with frustration, for he wanted desperately to ask them what had just happened, but knew they would be unable to explain, even if they knew.
Over the raised voices of the Hochträe, Elven caught wind of Sonora again, and turned back toward the tent to reassure the bird. As he lifted the tent’s flap, he cast a final glance to the dark forest behind him, and wondered if it seemed a shade darker than it had before.
At his appearance, Sonora burst into a furore of squawking, and Elven was relieved to know that the bird had not lost her own sight. Elven settled himself on the ground again, and held a hand out to Sonora, who hopped toward him and nestled her head against him. “I don’t know what just happened,” he said softly to her. “I hope it’s nothing.”
By the morning the storm had subsided, and they drank from the stream before packing their tents and returning to the lake’s shore. They had progressed at the very least some seventy miles down the lake, and Elven was desperately hoping that they might reach the end of it soon, for he was growing increasingly weary of sitting still day after day with nothing to do.
He could not deny that the scenery around them had changed however; from the barren fields and rocks of the northern Reinkrag, the Üthervaye seemed much more akin to the Trestaé in their demeanor. From the lake’s edges rose high, pine-covered peaks, rising higher into the distance to those whose summits remained capped in snow even in the rain and the warmer weather. Every so often another river or stream would empty itself into the lake as they went on, and Elven suspected that the river that finally exited the lake to the south must be prodigious indeed.
The remainder of that day was dull and without incident; the rain came and went, and one of the Hochträe on Elven’s raft began to cough. Elven tried to insist that the man take a brief rest and allow him to paddle, but even in the midst of a wrenching hack, the man refused to relinquish the wooden board.
When they stopped that evening, however, Elven came to realize that it was not only the man from his raft that seemed to be suffering from a cold. Several others were also coughing or languishing, and Elven took the opportunity that night to boil a great stew for the camp, including a small pinch of munadé that he had managed to keep upon his person ever since he and Brandyé had left the Illuèn in the forests of the Trestaé.
Nothing seemed to help, however, and by the morning Elven saw that at least half the camp were suffering some new illness. Hardy folk, though, the Hochträe insisted on moving forward, and so they spent what would become their last day on the rafts. It was not long into the morning before Elven realized their own raft was drifting perpetually sideways, as the sick man’s paddling became ever weaker. Finally he rose carefully and grasped the paddle firmly, looking into the man’s now watering and bloodshot eyes. The man tried briefly to resist, but Elven did not let go, and merely shook his head determinedly.
In the end the man allowed Elven the paddle and retreated himself to the center of the raft, where it seemed to Elven he rapidly fell asleep. For some hours they continued thus, Elven keeping pace easily with the third man on the raft, until soon after midday a commotion on a raft ahead brought them to a halt.
Without warning, there erupted from before them a great series of cries and calls, and Elven saw several of the Hochträe leap bodily into the water. For a moment he could not fathom their actions, until he saw one of them splashing and treading water with a firm grasp on the inert form of one of his fellows. As several others reached out to help him, Elven came to realize that one of the men on the rafts ahead of them had fallen into the water, unconscious. With a sudden chill he looked to the sleeping man on his own raft. “We need to make for the shore!” he called out to the others as loud as he could.
At first none seemed to pay him heed, so fixated were they on rescuing their fallen friend, and so Elven turned to the man who was paddling beside him and pointed to the shore. “We must go to land,” he said firmly, and with relief he saw the man nod in agreement.
By the time they had steered their craft to a shallow mud bank, the rest of the Hochträe it seemed had managed to haul the fallen man from the lake and upon one of the other rafts. Seeing that one of their party had made for the shore, it was not long before the rest came to lie upon the mud bank with Elven, and they had disembarked and made their way uphill and under the cover of trees.
Elven and his companion had had to bodily carry the sleeping Hochträe between them for when they arrived, they found themselves entirely unable to wake him. When they found a small clearing in which to rest, Elven left the sleeping man with the waking one to gather firewood, and had a roaring blaze going by the time the rest of the party found their way to them. He was disturbed to find that they had also had to carry the man who had fallen into the lake, for he seemed equally unable to be aroused.
Now, it seemed, was the moment the Hochträe began looking to Elven as a healer, and far into the night Elven was kept busy searching for herbs, plants and roots, and concocting half a dozen or more brews that he knew ought to have risen the deadest sleeper, through smelling or by pouring small trickles down their throats. But despite his efforts, the two sleeping men remained so, and to Elven’s dismay their breath seemed almost to weaken as time wore on.
For the rest of the camp Elven once more boiled a thin stew with the last of his munadé, and was astounded at the end of the night when the pot was not empty, for the host of usually ravenous men rarely left a drop. It was becoming clear to him through observation that nearly every one of the Hochträe had succumbed to an illness of some kind, and he could not conceive what he would do if each of them in turn fell into a stupor that they could not be roused from.
This thought did not seem to escape the Hochträe themselves, for late into the night they kept themselves occupied by the fire, talking softly and jabbing at each other to keep themselves from falling asleep. This worried Elven all the more, for he knew that if they were to have any chance of recovering, they would need rest; yet he could understand their hesitation to lie down, in case they failed to wake again.
Eventually, one of the Hochträe approached Elven with a small cough and said, “New, this sleeping sickness. Do you know it?”
Elven shook his head. “I’ve never come across anything like it. Everything I’ve tried—munadé, ginger, silverfoil—nothing seems to have any effect. I’ve never seen anyone in so deep a sleep!”
“You can wake them?” the man asked.
Biting his lip, Elven realized the man had understood few of his words. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I might not.”
But the man smiled a grim smile, nodded, and said, “You can wake them.”
Elven did not feel quite so optimistic, and the morning saw only to bear out his fears. In the night, three more of the Hochträe had fallen into a stupor and could not be awoken, although several others had fallen asleep and woke of their own accord, if not without some anxiety.
As the remaining Hochträe tended to reviving the fire in the morning cold, Elven went to see the condition of the first two men who had entered this frightful state of unconsciousness. To his horror, their skin had grown pale and cold in the night, and it was only by listening deeply to their chests that he could ascertain a heartbeat of any kind.
“Help!” he called out, and thankfully this was a word every one of the Hochträe understood. Several of their number came rapidly to Elven’s side. “We must move them by the fire,” he told them, and indicated with his hands. “They are growing cold.” Elven grasped the wrists of one of them, and one of the Hochträe took the man’s feet. Following their example another pair hefted the second sleeping man, and together they awkwardly moved them closer to the renewed flames. Elven then spent many minutes rubbing their hands and limbs, but to no avail—soon their skin felt as cold as the mists that rolled between the dark trunks all around them.
In desperation, Elven managed to get several of the Hochträe to take his place at the fallen men’s sides, rubbing and attempting to keep their warmth within their bodies, and called to them, “I will be back!” Without another word, he set out into the woods, his only thought to find something, some herb or root that was pungent enough to wake the dead, for without it these men would almost certainly be so.
But after an hour of searching under fallen logs and stones and in shaded glens, Elven began to despair. He knew he could not leave the Hochträe for much longer, and turned to set back, when a vision crossed his path that caused his blood to run cold.
Though it appeared only for a moment, he could have sworn he saw a hooded figure deep in the woods, shadowed face pale and staring at him. The figure bore a cloak of deepest black, such that it seemed even to drawn in the light around it and make the forest a little darker in its wake. For a moment—a long moment, it felt—Elven stared at the figure, and so it seemed the figure stared back at him.
After a time Elven found the courage to speak, and called out, “Hello? If you are there, can you aid us?”
But at his words—or at a blink, he was unsure—the figure vanished, leaving only branch and leaf as though it had never been there at all. “Hey there!” he called. “Come back!” He ran a few paces in the direction the figure had been, but there was nothing to be seen. Turning, half-expecting to find the figure behind him, he said aloud once more, “Hello? Please—come back! We need your help!”
But there was no answer save the rustling of the wind and the call of crows, who seemed ever-present lately. Then out of the near-silence came a familiar caw, and Elven saw Sonora drop out of the trees to the forest floor. With a nervous sigh, Elven said, “You frightened me, Sonora! Come—let’s return to the camp.”
As Elven came nearer to where he had left the Hochträe, his nervousness grew, for he could not hear them—not a shout, nor a whisper, nor even a cough. He quickened his pace, his stomach churning, and when he finally arrived it was to a dismal sight.
The fire had nearly died, for not one of the Hochträe remained strong enough now to tend to it. All but three of their number were now stretched prone on the ground, pale and cold, and as Elven laid a hand on the two that had been the first to fall, he felt their skin as cold as ice.
Beside him sat one of the Hochträe, huddling and shivering gently, a blanket around his shoulders. Elven tried to speak to him, but the man seemed unaware that Elven was even there. Elven waved a hand before his eyes, and the man failed to blink, or look his way. Frightened, Elven moved to another and laid his head to the sleeping man’s chest, listening desperately for a heartbeat. After many, many moments, Elven withdrew with tears in his eyes, for the man was no longer sleeping.
“What is happening?” he cried aloud to the forest, and the silence gave forth no answers.
From fallen branches Elven stacked the fire high and rekindled it, and soon darkness had fallen. He made his way from person to person, body to body, checking for pulses and doing anything and everything he knew of, drawing deep upon his training with Sörhend, but nothing he knew of healing had prepared him for this. Finally he retired to the fire himself, wrapping a blanket of his own over his shoulders, and contemplated that the morning would bring with it a camp of the dead.
And indeed, come the dismal dawn, there was not a soul left alive under those branches, save Elven. Some time during the night he had dozed off, for he woke with a start and a panic, thinking for a moment that he had succumbed to the fate of the Hochträe. It was only as the fact that he was awake to have such a thought dawned on him as proof that he had in fact not succumbed that he breathed a sigh of relief, and looked about him.
White, pale faces surrounded him, thin tendrils of mist draped across their brows, and Elven shuddered, for even on the battlefields of the Rein he had not known death in such measure. A dozen strong men struck down in a matter of days, without cause or sign of disease, save a slight cough. He had never heard of such a sickness.
And then, a new and terrifying thought came to him: what was to be his own fate? He was now alone, lost in mountains that were entirely unknown to him. He could tell south from north, and knew that eventually he would have to continue following the path they had been treading up until this point, but how far would he be able to go on his own?
And surmounting all these considerations was the burning question he could not ignore: would he, too, succumb to this sleeping disease? If so, why had he not already? And if not … what was there about him that so differed him from the Hochträe? A hundred thoughts passed through his mind, and none were satisfactory. Other than where they had been born, he could see no difference between the Hochträe and himself. Was it because they were unaccustomed to a lower altitude? Was it because they had eaten something he hadn’t? To the best of his recollection, they had shared in every meal, drank together from every stream, and walked the same path from the highest peaks to the lowest valleys.
Eventually Elven could not bear these thoughts any longer, and stood. The first thing he must do, he told himself, was be absolutely certain that he was not leaving even one of the Hochträe alive. As a healer, and as a fellow man, he would not leave this place while even one of them still breathed.
It was not long, however, before his worst fears were realized, and he discovered he could find not a single breath nor beat of heart among them. To a one, they had died in their sleep. It was then that he came to the realization that he did not know what to do with their bodies; he had not the strength to dig a grave for so many in the hard soil, and he did not know what customs the Hochträe kept to themselves regarding their dead. Should he set them free upon the lake? Leave them where there lay?
In the end, he could not bear the thought of leaving them for forest animals to feast upon, and did the only thing he could think of: he stoked the fire as high as he could, and with sick tears, he hauled their bodies one by one upon it. A word of forgiveness passed his lips with each one, and with every moment that they burned he questioned himself: had he given up on these men too easily? Had they truly been dead? In the end, only his training with Sörhend was able to comfort him, for he had been taught that a man can live only a few minutes without breath, and each of these poor souls had now been more than day in such a dreadful state. There could have been no reviving them, no rescuing.
It was long into the evening by the time his horrible work was done, but Elven could not remain in that same place another night. By the poor light of a burning branch he packed what provisions he could onto a single donkey, and set out into the woods, leaving the smoldering pyre behind him. Great tears rolled down his cheeks, and he found himself longing more than ever for the comfort of Talya’s touch, or even Brandyé’s words. Through the night he walked, stumbling here and there, and did not rest until the miserable light of day crept upon him once more, though a part of him dreadfully wished that it would not.
In the daylight the world became more real, and the consequences of his actions began to settle upon him. He knew he had food for some days with him, and had with him as always his bow for hunting. He had reckoning of survival in the wilderness from many previous occasions, and was not concerned with his ability to feed himself. However, what he had no reckoning of was how far he might be from Vira Weitor, nor what direction it might lie in.
Eventually he decided his best course of action would be to follow the lake to the river that drained from it, and from there take the river downstream. Eventually it must lead from the mountains, he told himself, and once in the plains he might find some direction. There was even the possibility, slim though it was, that the river he sought was the very same that he knew ran not two miles from Vira Weitor’s western edge.
So began the first of many lonely days, and Elven began to appreciate what Brandyé must have suffered when he had been exiled from their home land of Consolation. Here, at least, he was well equipped, with a donkey to carry his burdens and a companion in Sonora who could, if not speak with him, at least be spoken to, and so Elven was kept from madness. Still, his predicament gave him cause to wonder as to the fate of his friend, and whether he had found what he was seeking for.