Against The Current, thrilling installment #11

6 08 2008

So, here’s another one. Anyone willing to comment?

Jesij turned the letter over and then back again, but it failed to show anything it hadn’t for the past few hours. Jenn pulled a chair back and sat down across from her.

‘At least eat the soup I made. You can’t keep staring at the letter all day. This isn’t good.’

There was genuine concern in his voice; Jesij dropped the letter.

‘Your daughter runs away in the middle of the night, your wife sets off after her, alone, and you are concerned about me old woman?’

She shook her head in dismay.

‘I’m getting too old. I can’t understand you young people anymore.’

‘You’, Jenn started, putting extra emphasis on the word, ‘are the only one I can do anything for at the moment. Aleana can take care of herself, trust me on that, and I’d only have slowed her down. And for Laiva… If Aleana says she is all right, then she is all right.’

Jesij couldn’t discern any hint of doubt in his voice as he said that last part – and she had been watching out for it. How could he be so sure? How could Aleana be so sure? Just because of that piece of paper? Once more Jesij picked the letter up, and read the words:

Whatever coast, whatever shore,

Wherever you may cast your light,

The wings of ancients, evermore,

Will roam the skies, at day, before,

They gently cover you at night.

The stylised picture of the eight-leafed Azanee flower had been drawn below – maybe by means of signature, or just for an ornament. And that was all there was to the letter.

She knew the line, of course; everybody who’d ever heard the ‘The Downfall of Everett’ did, but that didn’t shed any light on the issue. Those words had a meaning to Aleana, bore a message, and yet all she could see were a few lines of ancient poetry.

Even hours after Laiva had left, she still lingered in the thoughts of Reesha, soldier on indefinite leave and newly appointed inn keeper. He was cleaning carrots, and that left him with plenty of time to ponder, his hands taking care of work almost on their own. It was embarrassing to freak out like that, no doubt about that. At the same it felt to him like a lucky escape. He wondered how far she’d have gone if he’d insisted.

He could almost hear the war drums again. The drums had been the worst; beating on and on while the world was turning red, beating on even when the cries should have drowned out their sound, and still beating when everything had been over. Only, it was never over.

‘Open up!’

That startled him. He couldn’t remember anyone shouting that, especially not a woman…

‘Open that door, or I’ll break it!’ the voice declared, finally pulling Reesha out of his thoughts and back to the present. The door. Someone was banging against the door. He quickly tossed his knife into the carrots and put the bowl aside.

‘I’m coming, one moment.’

The banging stopped. He unbarred the door and pulled it open, an excuse for the delay already on his lips, but then he saw the face of the caller and words left him. He flinched. The caller looked right like the girl – only with a few more years to it.

Aleana ignored the man’s reaction.

‘Have you seen my daughter? Eight years, brown hair?’

Not quite the canonical way to start a conversation, but there were more important things than manners, no matter what she had taught Laiva. Besides she was in no mood for courtesies; she wanted answers, and she wanted them now.

Intended or not, her harsh tone worked wonders on Reesha; this was no tone for a question – he had been given an order. Years of military drill came to bear, and he snapped to attention.

‘Passed here shortly before noon. Had her dog with her.’

He almost added ‘sir’ to his answer. Aleana eyed him curiously for a moment, then she realised what he had just said. Her voice faltered and almost pleading she added ‘Why haven’t you stopped her?’

Reesha gulped. He could live with being ordered around, but nobody ever taught him how to handle this.

‘I… I tried… She… didn’t want to…’

An uneasy silence ensued, leaving him in dreadful anticipation of what might follow, but then Aleana just nodded slowly and walked away.

Twilight was about to turn into night, when Laiva at last spotted the outlines of three huge trees against the sky – the Sentinels; finally.

According to legend the oaks were enchanted warriors, left by a king of ancient times to watch over his grave, a grave filled with gold, precious stones, and other riches things Laiva couldn’t remember at the moment. It was a stupid legend. As if nobody would have found the treasure already, directly at the road as it supposedly was.

Still, the trees made for a good landmark, and the inn was right behind the small bend in the road they marked. It was about time, too. After nightfall the doors and windows would be barred, and then she’d have to spend another night outside. The mere thought made her shudder.

Well, in a few minutes she would sit in front of the fire, eat hot soup and then get to sleep. Or just sleep; she was seriously tired. Only a few more steps – she could already see the light of the windows shimmering through the trees.

Suddenly, Mynor froze in his stride. For a moment he just stood there, his gaze fixed intently at the light ahead, but then he laid back his ears against the head, bared his teeth and growled. Laiva unsheathed her dagger. Whatever had caught his attention, it couldn’t be good. After a few seconds he turned his head towards Laiva and gave a long look, then moved towards the trees. Obediently, she followed, her heart was beating so loud, she was afraid it could be heard for miles.

At first, Laiva thought they were approaching the inn from the backside, getting a closer look from the cover of the trees, so she was surprised to find him leading her around it in a wide berth; that possibility hadn’t even occurred to her. Was Mynor afraid of what they’d find? Did he already know? Was he trying to keep her away on purpose? Maybe she should sneak a look…

She didn’t realise she had stopped moving until Mynor halted himself and turned his head; giving her a serious look, as if wanting to tell her off for even thinking something like that. Whatever he really meant by it, it brought Laiva back to her senses. If Mynor did want to keep her away on purpose, it would be only for her best.

The last remainder of daylight had long gone, when Mynor allowed them to stop. Gratefully, Laiva let her backpack slide from her shoulders and slumped down next to it, more falling than moving out of her own accord. She didn’t know how much further she would have managed to go, but very much, it could not have been; she’d been more stumbling than walking as it was.

For a moment she though she could fight the tiredness, managed to keep herself upright, but then unceremoniously fell over. Soft moss greeted her like a soft bed and moments later she felt Mynor snuggling up against her. Laiva wrapped an arm around him and let her fingers run through the his soft fur.

She had to be out of her mind, giving up on the inn on the whim of a wolf. A wolf she had only met the day before, no less. Spending another night in the forest, after she had barely made it through the last one. But it felt good, and deep down Laiva knew she was right to entrust herself to Mynor. She knew he would keep her safe.

The big grey wolf looked at the girl, her chest raising and falling in a slow, regular rhythm. She looked so helpless, was so frail. And yet she had a heart stout enough to rival the boldest of men.

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5 responses

6 09 2008
mark

sure, have a comment 😛

just found your site and read through the whole story, it’s good so far, but I still don’t get what happened to make her run away in the first place (well obviously they were laughing at her, but why?)

8 09 2008
emmel

First of all: thanks. About the other thing… I didn’t realize that’s so much of a problem, and wasn’t actually planning on spilling until later. Seeing that it is apparently a point of confusion/annoyment, however, I see what I can do. Maybe in the installment after the next one…

8 09 2008
mark

In my case it’s not confusion or annoyance, just curiosity (I’m patient), but I wouldn’t say no to finding out soon.

31 10 2008
Richard

“‘Your daughter runs away in the middle of the night, your wife set off after her, alone, and you are concerned about me old woman?’ ” ‘Your daughter runs away in the middle of the night, your wife set off after her, alone, and you are concerned about me, an old woman?’ ? “as if wanting her tell her off for even thinking something like that.” ‘as if wanting to tell her off for even thinking something like that.’ ? And do not tell me why till it is time to know. It adds wonder to the story. Richard

3 11 2008
emmel

I think ‘me old woman’ is what should be there. Just one little note on that: I’m grateful for every suggestion and give it thought, but the final decision rests with me. Please bear with me.

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