A story I wrote for Brilcrist's contest. She is an artist on Deviantart a site that I really recomend you. I will be lazy and instead of explaining the contest I will only put the link to it on my profil. just so everyone know, I was to late to give back the story so I don't know if it will actually be part of the contest. But since it is written I won't let in rot in my computer. Good reading everyone.
Seastnan: Old Gaelic name meaning "bodyguard", derived from the word seasuighim, meaning "to defend; to resist".
Sun was about to set, orange light was flooding through the large windows, making the usually white stonewalls look as if they were burning from the inside. The main-hall was always a quite place in both appearance and noise level. And that was why Deirbhile usually liked to spend time there. But today she wasn't calm and it took away half of the reposing atmosphere she had been seeking by coming here. To add to her discomfort, a few strands had escaped from the intricate braid into which her white blond hair had been knotted and, despite her effort to push them back behind her pointy hear, a particularly sneaky curl was constantly coming back to tickle her nose.
On a nearby chair Anrai was talking with his adviser, or more accurately trying to listen to the man. For everyone else in the room he probably looked deeply concentrated with his head slightly hunched and his bright blue eyes, the same as Deirbhile's, fixed on the old man facing him. But Deirbhile knew that her brother's mind was actually far away from the matter that was exposed to him. As if sensing that he was watched Anrai lifted his head and his gaze locked with Deirbhile's. His eyebrows lifted in question but she reassured him with a little smile. It didn't fool him in the last but there was nothing they could do for now so both returned to what they were doing, or at least what they pretended to be doing.
Far away in the wood the matter was entirely else. For one Seastnan would have given pretty much anything to be able to stop and sit down for a while. He felt as if his feet were becoming heavier with each step. They were only now barely leaving the ground and it made for interesting encounter with the many roots scattering the forest ground. And he couldn't fall anymore; falling had become a synonym of death from the moment he hadn't known any more if he could get back on his feet. He couldn't pause either because he didn't know if he would find the strength to keep going if he stopped.
No, his only concern now was to keep moving. Slowly, but moving nonetheless.
But, was tempting a little voice in the back of his mind, it had been a long time since he had heard of them. To which the rational part of him countered that it didn't mean anything. They had been trained not to be heard. For all he knew they could be watching him right now, laughing at the way he was dragging himself forward, desperately trying to ignore the exhaustion and the pain in his feet. Well then, tried the little voice again, wouldn't it be better to stop since he would never do it? Why suffer when he could just let them finish him cleanly and quickly? How many days had it been now? Playing hide and seek with his pursuers, barely eating, sleeping an hour or so and waking abruptly at the first little noise, cold, stiff and as tired as before?
Help should have arrived by now which meant that Anrai hadn't received his message. One more traitor to add on the list. If he ever got out of this mess he would have a few words with his prince about those friends of his.
A hole in the ground made him trip and for a second he thought that this would be the end. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. With some luck he would break his neck and they would find him like that… or achieve him in his sleep. Either way he wouldn't suffer much. And, oh, how he whished he could sleep. But there was still Anrai. Anrai had trusted him, he couldn't let him to believe all what they had said to be true. And what would think Deirbhile? If he died what would happen of her? She was too sensitive for her own good. If he died now either she would never forgive him or she would die of sorrow, she was totally the kind to do that. And then he would be the one who wouldn't be able to forgive himself. No, he couldn't die. Not now, not ever. Not until he could go back and explain. Somehow he managed to regain his balance.
Moving, he had to keep moving.
Deirbhile was about to do something drastic and stupid like start shouting when the guards came in. She watched from the corner of her eye, as their captain approached her brother to whisper something she couldn't hear from where she was. Anrai listened attentively, his beautiful face set into a neutral expression. After only a few seconds, he gestured for the man to follow him through a door behind him. The room it lead to was an antechamber from which you could access the prince's own quarters and Deirbhile knew that whatever Anrai would learn he would go think it over calmly in his meditation chamber. Which meant they wouldn't see him anymore tonight.
She switched her attention back to the flowers in front of her but couldn't concentrate on it anymore. Anrai had insisted that she kept to her usual occupation until they could learn anything more and for three days now she had been waiting, whishing to wake up and discover that it all had been a bad dream. There was simply now way she could wait anymore. And certainly not until the morning or whatever time her brother would see fit to reveal her what he knew. If anything had happened to Seastnan she had a right to know.
Abandoning the flowers she got up and strode along the hall towards Anrai's apartments.
Running… What a difficult thing it was actually. And what a pitiful attempt at escaping them. Truthfully, if he hadn't managed to do it at this point then how would he outrun them now that he was so worn-out he couldn't walk straight? A brief glance behind him almost made him fall when he once again tripped on his own feet. Not seeing them for now was the only thing in his favour.
Anrai was still in the antechamber but the guard was gone. The prince was pale and trying to recover from what he had just learnt. In an attempt to ignore the bothering information he tried instead to point out just when exactly everything had started going downhill. Had it been when Seastnan, which he trusted above everyone else, had been accused of being a traitor? Or when, instead of coming to him to claim his innocence and explain how all this was a machination –it had to be, or at least Anrai had to believe it was-, Seastnan had simply disappeared? Had it been when Anrai had given orders to look for him only to be told by a hesitant guard who had clearly been instructed not to, that a hunt had already been ordered? Or sooner maybe? Could all this have been avoided if he had paid more attention?
Memories of Seastnan trying to talk to him about something were stalked him now. Why had he not listened? Upon remembering all the excuses he had back then, none seemed important enough to ignore his friend.
It suddenly appeared as obvious that his friend's demeanour had been odd. Even before his disappearance he had been less and less present, he could remember of a few exchanges with Deirbhile where she had asked about his whereabouts and he hadn't been able to answer. Actually he hadn't heard of Seastnan for a whole week before this traitor nonsense which itself had been presented to his notice only five days ago. Add to that the two days it had taken him to realize that Seastnan was nowhere to be found and wouldn't come to him to explain everything like he had always done until now. Now he was wondering how long all this had truly been going on.
When he finally decided himself to move to his meditation chamber it was to find Deirbhile sitting in his living room. He didn't know if he should feel cornered or simply relieved. She wouldn't let him hide.
She stood up at his entrance and faced him resolutely.
"So? Where is he?"
She must have read the sadness on his face for she asked once again ton full of warning.
"Anrai, where is he?"
"Oh Deir… I'm so sorry."
Her eyes widened with understanding and he had just time to catch her before she fell to the floor in tears.
Seastnan had been his best friend, but to Deirbhile he was the one to whom she had given her heart.
He just held her while she cried, not knowing what else in the world he could do.
The ground had slowly turned into a maze. Seastnan was back to walking again, there was no way he was running with water to his knees in his state of fatigue. He could hear them now. They would catch with him soon. It was too late now, but even so he couldn't resign himself to just let go. Maybe he had just been walking so long his body didn't know how to stop anymore.
A hundred steps latter he had noticeably slowed down in an attempt to make less noise. They were so close he was finally able to understand what they were saying, but still unable to see them through the abundant vegetation. Apparently they were arguing over the possibility of having lost him. If it hadn't indicated his position to them he would have laughed. It was too good to be true. Almost immediately though a misjudged step lost him his balance and the splashing sound made them go silent. He went still, hoping they would go back to their banter. But luck wasn't on his side.
"It was coming from over there."
"Hurry up everyone!"
The splashing was approaching and now that he had stopped he couldn't bring himself to move anymore. Thinking that he would at least face his pursuers when they caught with him he turned around slowly. Between the trees he saw them appear. At his sight they stopped. He was able to see the surprise on their face when he didn't try to flee, could see them bend their bow, ready to shot at the first suspicious move on his part. Most of them he didn't recognize but one or two he had already spoken to when he was still Anrai's personal guard. He was a little surprise when he recognized Imhear who he used to think of as a friend.
The later even had the decency to look sorry to be here. Or perhaps it was the walking in knee-high water for a few hours that made his expression this gloomy. Their captain ordered them to be on their guard, which drew Seastnan's attention on him. This one he knew as well for he had seen him with the traitors responsible for all this mess. Abruptly, he realized that there was no hope to expect. They would never let him live to explain the truth to his prince. He would die here, in the smelling maze with a week worth of dirt and sweat on him. Some irrational part of his mind wondered if the goddess of death would let him in heaven stinky and covered in grime.
Since he had nothing to lose maybe he could try to pass a message to Anrai. Yes, that was the thing to do. Lifting his hand in surrender he willed his feet to support him for a few step. The first one seemed to take him hours. His felt as if his feet had transformed into lead.
Whatever they were expecting him to do it didn't include him surrendering apparently. He could approach at least ten steps before someone ordered him to stop. One of the men, not the captain, Maybe he wasn't the usual commander of the group then. Maybe they hadn't had time to send only their followers. Maybe Imhear was truly sorry to be here.
He stopped, now wasn't the time to get shot. "Help." He murmured weakly instead. "Please I need help."
The captain shouted for him to shut up and ordered the others to shot. They hesitated.
"Please someone tell the prince to be wary of…" He saw the arrow before he really felt it. It didn't register at first but when it did it only urged him to get someone, anyone to pass the message to Anrai. " Tell the prince that…" The second arrow came soon after the first. His knee buckled under him and he started coughing. The taste of blood invaded his mouth, red droplets felt on his shirt. He tried to talk once more but it only sent him in a coughing fit. They hadn't even shot him properly. He heard someone scream his name and lifted his head. Imhear was looking at him with confusion in his eyes, the captain was screaming at everyone to stay away in case Seastnan would still be able to fight. In a last desperate attempt he tried to say it again. He could only force a murmur to pass his lips but knew immediately that there was no way anyone could have heard him. Then the pain finally registered and in a futile attempt to escape it his body trashed on his own sending him on his side on the ground. His hands went to the arrows only to send more waves of pain when he touched it.
As if from far away he could hear Imhear's voice.
"Why did you shot? He wasn't trying to defend himself. We could've got him alive!"
"Shut up!" Snapped the captain's voice. "Do you really think he would've just come with us without a fight? He was just trying to lure us into coming close."
"But…" Tried Imhear in a less assured voice.
"Let him rot. That's all he deserves. I don't want anyone to get close to that traitor."
Seastnan didn't know if he should laugh or feel insulted. There would be no burial ceremony for him, which was the worst disgrace one could suffer. And by seemingly dishonouring the traitor the captain ensured that nobody could come close enough to hear him say what he knew. Everything had been for nothing, he had failed.
Bryn: Welsh unisex name meaning "hill".
Bryn wondered if he was really as stupid as he was sometimes told. How else did you explain that he had listened and actually wandered to the maze? And then decided to enter it upon hearing noises and stayed to spy a bunch of elves shot one of their own? But even all the above could be blamed on curiosity. No, what was really bothering him was the fact that, after the leave of the group of still standings elves, he had approached the scene. He had always wanted to see an elf, and to see one from close was simply too tempting a possibility to pass.
He was a little disappointed when this one didn't prove as pretty as elves were said to be. His skin was sickly pale except for the dark circles around his eyes, his hair was so filthy that it was hard to tell which colour it was supposed to be, his clothes seemed to have been of a good facture but once again that was hard to tell with the blood and mud covering them.
But you could still see the elegant embroideries on his collar, his hears had this pointy shape that he had heard of and when looking beyond the grim, he was the most beautiful being that Bryn had ever seen. Even Saya, the daughter of the village blacksmith, wasn't as pretty.
He approached and kneeled in the water to have a better view of the creature. Hesitantly, he reached foot the elf's face and touched it with the tip of his finger. The skin was still warm, feverish even. Frowning slightly Bryn approached the side of his head from the elf's mouth.
A faint breath of hair tickled his ear.
It was still alive.
Bryn grimaced. It had never crossed his mind that the elf could be anything else but dead. Surely the other wouldn't have left him if it were the case. Not that he knew anything about elves. But that wasn't the point. The elf wasn't dead. Did it mean that Bryn should help him? What had he to gain from doing so?
What have you to lose from doing so?
Grimacing Bryn massaged his forehead.
"No need to shout you know." He murmured absently. This time he took hold of the arrows and broke the shaft as close to the body as he dared. The elf didn't even stir which wasn't a really good sign.
The boy pondered briefly his next move. He couldn't just carry the elf on his back because then the arrows would be between them and they would move. Stomach wounds were bad enough without him adding to it. But he didn't know how long he could carry him in his arms.
Sighing Bryn resigned himself for a long and tiring walk home.
Seastnan woke up slowly. First to the pain in his stomach, then to the noises around him. It took him a while to understand what was said. It wasn't a language he was used to, but he had learnt it long ago to please Deirbhile.
The ones speaking around him were humans.
"He is awake." Said a voice. It was too deep for a female, deeper also than a child. Male then, though probably still young.
"Are you sure? His eyes are still closed." Asked a cawing voice from further in the room. This one he knew from the quavering, was an old human.
"He is awake." Answered the first voice matter-of-factly. "Do you think he understands us?"
"Maybe, elf tend to have a knack for languages, they often learn to speak several of them. Then again, humans are not highly thought of at the elf court so maybe he doesn't." A rather well informed old human. In his experience those were usually more annoying, either because they asked a lot of questions or because they wanted things. "Well if our host really is awake then we might as well feed him. Get me a cup of stew boy. And the medicine on the shelf over there."
There was the noise of fabric as the nearer human moved away, then the clatter of kitchen utensils being used. The other human approached bringing with it a thick odour of herbs and smoke that wasn't wholly unpleasant. Seastnan decided that now was as good a time as ever to open his eyes. It was quite dark but he could make out a fire in front of which a silhouette was busying itself. Between the silhouette and the bed he was lying on was a table covered by so many items you couldn't make them out of the mass. The walls were covered in shelf as packed as the table, several glints attracted his eyes on various strange objects of the like he had never seen, even though some were obviously of elf facture. By moving his head a little he could see the foot of the bed near which was standing the ugliest human being he had ever seen. It was small, its skin brown and wrinkled from spending time under the sun, with white and grey hair spouting in every direction. When it noticed his open eyes, the being frowned, which made it look funny, and approached some more.
"So he was right." It grumbled to no one in particular.
The other human stopped what it had been doing by the fire and shook its head in a clearly annoyed gesture. Then it took something on the table and approached the bed. Seastnan was expecting it to speak to the little person but instead it gave it the bowl and vial it had been holding and approached him.
"If you can understand then I will ask you to help me sit you up. Eating while laying will only make you choke on your meal." The human then reached for his arm with one hand and passed the other under his back. Seastnan helped as best he could, which he found out wasn't much. And when he was sitting against the pillows the little human sat down on a nearby chair and gave him the bowl.
It was warm and smelt of soup despite its poor appearance. Seastnan drank it as quickly as he could without burning himself. The taste wasn't much compared to the cooking he had been accustomed to at the elf castle, but it was good to have food in his stomach after so long. When he was finished the little being took away the bowl and shoved a vial in his hands while instructing him to drink it wholly.
If medicine was as effective as it smelled badly then this one was up for miracles. Gods did it stink. And the taste was best forgotten forever. Drinking this was like torture. But the little human was starring at him so he drank it all.
When he was finished he felt as tired as if he hadn't just woken a few minutes ago. Briefly wondering if it had anything to do with the tonic he soon went back to sleep.
Heulog watched the elf a moment more before turning toward Bryn. She didn't look reproachful but he knew she wasn't too happy either. "Now what boy?" She asked tiredly.
He shrugged. "I don't know."
She stared at him like if it would give her the information she wanted but when it didn't she shook her head in resignation "Sometimes I wonder why I even bother." She grumbled.
Bryn smiled affectionately "Because if you didn't no one else would." Then his smile turned playful "Beside you want to know how it works more than I do."
She didn't smile back, only turned abruptly toward another smaller bed in a corner of the room. "Well then since he is your guest you keep watch tonight. Wake me up for anything you can't handle on your own. I wouldn't want you to ruin my work." And with that she went to bed.
Bryn didn't stop smiling. He knew by now that the old woman never smiled. It didn't mean that she didn't like him; she just wasn't one to display her affection. He looked around and decided the place could use some cleaning. It wouldn't wake Heulog for she slept like the dead. And the elf would be too far gone what with the awful decoction she had given him. He took a few seconds to stare, amazed at what the old woman could keep for her potions. It had already been a surprise the first year he had worked for her but it seemed that she had acquired even more strange objects since then.
There was hours of work ahead of him but it was his task to keep the house clean so there was no helping it. It would have been as long and tedious at the farm anyway. The schedule just wasn't the same. And here he wasn't that poor Bryn with whom nobody knew how to react.
Singing softly an old melody that he had probably heard his father whistle at the farm he began clearing the table.
This time when Seastnan woke up he was met with the sound of someone moving things around while singing absentmindedly. It was a pretty song as far as his knowledge in music went. The odour of smoke and herbs was less overwhelming and he could feel the soft caress of fresh air on his skin. He opened his eyes. The fire was still lit and an opened window was letting a ray of silver light in the room. The table had been cleared; the shelves were more cluttered than before if it was even possible. He could now make out the little bed in which was sleeping the little human. Someone passed in front of the fire casting a shadow on the wall. The song stopped, replaced by the voice of the other human.
By reflex he tried to sit up but the wound at his side sent a wave of pain in his whole body. With a sharp intake of breath he stilled, opting instead for just moving his head.
He hadn't been able to see that human clearly until now. It looked quite young. Beside that there wasn't much to say on it. It had mud brown hair and a dull face. Neither ugly like the little one, nor pretty, just… well human. He couldn't see its eyes for now but knowing the humans they were probably brown as well. Even its clothes were dull. Clothes made by human could never reach elf fabrication, most things made by humans couldn't, but those one were clearly cheap and made to work outside. It was almost a wonder that it seemed so clean.
The human didn't seem to mind the starring; it stayed still for a moment then started to speak again.
"Are you hungry? There's still some of that stew." It didn't wait for an answer and went directly to one of the shelf from which it pulled a bowl from all the mess. It then turned toward the fireplace and the cauldron that was still suspended there. When it lifted the cap a strong odour of cooked meat and vegetables escaped. The human filled the bowl and grabbed a spoon in his way toward the bed in which the elf was laying. Seastnan tried once again to sit up, more slowly this time and half managed it before he felt arm on his shoulder and back. Sitting properly he was given the bowl, which he ate a little more slowly than he had the first one a few hours ago.
The younger human didn't stay by his side to watch him eat. Instead it went back to what it had been doing. It grabbed a cloth and shook it by the window to get ride of the dust, then he passed it on the table, on the shelves though how he could do this without making anything fall was a mystery. Not once did it look his way but when Seastnan finished eating the human put aside the cloth and came back to him, hand extended for the bowl.
"An other one?" Asked the human.
Seastnan shook his head no.
The human paused. "Oh, so you do understand us."
Seastnan shrugged, it seemed to be enough for the boy for he took the bowl away to clean it.
Now that he had his stomach full and his head clear Seastnan could think on the situation. It wasn't really good but better than when he was being chased in the wood by his own kind. Maybe he could still make things better. Looking around once more he spotted his cuirass. It had been cleaned but as he had feared the arrows had let a hole. Not that surprising seeing as it was one he used in the palace and those were more meant for show than actual protection. But this one had been quite solid considering its lightness. Plus it was a present from Deirbhile. Maybe once he was back home he could find someone to repair it. It shouldn't be that hard to get to Anrai to tell him everything he had discovered. Then he hoped their friendship would be stronger than all the lies they might have told him. Surely his prince would have found out by now that something was wrong. When he had had to flee everything was so messed up at the court that you had to be blind not to notice it. For a second he even imagined the possibility of him going back only to discover that everything was back to normal. They would be waiting for him -or thinking him dead- and would be all too happy to welcome him back. Sneering inwardly he put the idea aside. It was simply impossible.
He had to go back as soon as possible and talk with Anrai. How much time had been lost already while he was trying to escape those who should have helped him and after that when he was lying unconscious in this bed?
Turning his head he saw that the young human was now sitting at the table, slicing something while trying to stay awake. "How long have I been here?" At first the human didn't move, then it lifted its head and looked in his direction hesitantly as if asking if he had been the one talking. "How long?" Repeated Seastnan a little annoyed.
"Two days." Finally answered the human. "And it took me a whole other day to carry you here."
"How did you find me?" Asked Seastnan out of curiosity.
"I heard noises. I saw the others shot you. I was surprised to find you alive. Aren't Elves supposed to be good at archery?"
"They weren't really trying to kill me" defended the elf.
"Oh." Answered the boy.
Silence stretched between them. The human didn't seem to want to know more. Strange, Seastnan had heard that humans were nosey and talked a lot. It was something elves made fun of. Seastnan himself wasn't really one to talk. By elf standard he was kind of a loner. But those considerations wouldn't help him to reach the prince.
"Where are we?"
This time the human answered at once.
"Near the village of Bellwood. About half a day from the maze by feet."
Seastnan frowned "I don't know that name. Do you have a map?"
The boy looked around. "There is probably one somewhere. I can look for it but I don't promise anything."
As it was speaking it approached the shelves and started to search. After a while it came out with a piece of skin approximately the shape of a rectangle. Lighting a candle it gave the map to the elf.
"We are there." It said, pointing their location on the map.
Looking more closely Seastnan was surprised to find he wasn't that far from the elf territory, if the map wasn't too out of proportions. Maybe a five days walk to the palace; even with his wound it couldn't be more than six days. Considering he had been fleeing for a whole week he must have gotten more lost than he had thought.
"Does it help?"
"Yes it does." Answered Seastnan absentmindedly. "Do you think I could find a good sword or a bow somewhere?"
It was the absence of response once again that drew Seastnan's eyes on the human. Its head was slightly bent to the side as if listening to something. Its face was set into a neutral expression when it answered. "Maybe, in a few days you might be well enough to go look by yourself." Seastnan thought briefly that it looked in pain. Particularly when it got up and massaged its forehead with one hand. It sighed and looking nowhere in particular said, "You should sleep. Tomorrow will be… a busy day." It looked sideway at the bed of the little human "Heulog won't like it she wanted to do her laundry." A brief tired smile passed on its features before it turned to help him in a more comfortable position to sleep. Only when Seastnan was laying comfortably on the bed did the human move back. In the process, a ray of light fell on its face allowing the elf to see its eyes. They weren't brown as he had thought, nor were they dull. One was a pretty blue and the other a very pale grey.
Heulog: Welsh unisex name meaning "sunny".
A loud pounding at the door interrupted the beautiful dream she was having. She heard Bryn go to the door and speak to the bugger. A little while later he was shaking her shoulder with urgency.
"Heulog, Heulog wake up."
"I'm already awake boy." She grumbled, shoving him aside to get on her feet. "What's happening this time?" A brief glance at the window informed her that sun wasn't up. An other glance in the opposite direction showed the elf, awake and looking at them with interest. She returned her attention to Bryn in time to catch his answer.
"There is a fire in the inn. Some people have been injured." He put a basket in her hand and she could see it contained everything she would need from balm for the burns to syrup for those who had inhaled too much smoke. He couldn't have enough time since the man arrival to prepare. The vials and containers had been scattered on too many shelves, which meant he should have had the basket prepared in advance when he couldn't know about the fire. But he was Bryn and so the basket was ready with medicine and breakfast. Making an approving noise she instructed for the boy to stay here and grab some sleep. More quietly to avoid anyone else to hear her she also told him to make sure nobody would see their guest. And with that done she left, following the messenger to the village.
All in all it wasn't as bad as it seemed. The second floor of the inn was in bade shape but it would provide a good opportunity to redo the decoration and buy new furniture. There weren't too many injured people and the wounds were superficial. She spread two of her boxes of balm on minor burns, abandoned the last box to the innkeeper's wife for her to use it on her husband, who had been the most injured, and gave a gulp of syrup to all those who needed it and mostly to the children who liked the honey it was made of. She was greeted, thanked and more than one came just to chat and ask for minor remedy. By the time the sun was high in the sun she had a whole list of balms and other medicine to deliver on a later date and had seen pretty much everyone.
She was about to go back home when she was called by a woman of brown hair and grey eyes followed by two little girls of seven that were the mirrored image of each other. A little further away she recognized the husband of the woman accompanied by his eldest and youngest sons. She stopped and let the woman and the little girls catch up with her.
Both girls stayed a little aside but the mother approached without fear.
"Heulog how nice it is to see you."
"Mya." She greeted with a nod of her head. "It's been a long time." She couldn't help the reproach in her voice.
Apparently the other woman understood the meaning of it. "Yes, things have been busy lately at the farm. How is Bryn doing?"
Heulog let a smile graze her features. "He is well. Things have also been… interesting for him lately. "
"Oh really?" Asked Mya her voice a little unsettled. "How?"
Heulog's smile widened. "Well he decided it would be a good idea to go all the way to the maze and brought back a wounded pet."
Mya had palled. "Decided?"
"Apparently someone told him to do it. But we both know that Bryn doesn't listen to anyone."
Now the woman's features were set in a stern face. "So it didn't get any better?"
"You will force me to say it out loud won't you? Fine. The voices, he still hears them?"
"As far as I know there is only one. But yes, he still hears it. From what he told me it is also louder than it used to be, clearer too."
At that moment Mya's husband reached them. "Hello!" Said the man with a wide grin on his face. "I called you at least five time. What's so entrancing?"
His wife didn't turn to him. "Voices." She said. Suddenly the smile disappeared from the man's face.
"Ah. So they aren't gone." He shook his head as if wanting to clear it from disturbing thoughts. "Well as long as the boy is happy. He is, isn't he?"
For the first time Heulog's smile took on a warm edge. "Yes he is. Of course he misses you all but I don't let him delve on it too much. I've rarely seen such a hardworking boy. You two are lucky parents."
The smile returned to the man's face and Mya regained her colour. They shared a look of connivance and Heulog wondered again how two reasonable people like them could get so worked up over something like this.
"Speaking of which, do you know who will be on duty next year?" Asked Bryn's father.
Her smile was swiped away replaced with her usual frown. "It should be the Hunter's younger son. What's is name already? Wynn? He is the only child of age in the village."
"You don't look too enthusiast." Remarked Mya.
"I am not. This child doesn't know how to behave. I need someone to help me, that's why I take your children in my home and teach them to read and calculate for a whole year. With that child I would spend more time doing discipline than receiving actual help and he isn't one to sit still for the time it takes to learn anything. I'd rather keep Bryn."
"You've already had him for two years." Remind the man. "He should be looking for an apprenticeship by now."
"Maybe I should keep him then." Wondered Heulog aloud. "I won't be eternal and at worst there are a lot of places were people with my knowledge would be much appreciated."
Both parents looked a little startled. The mother was about to say something but the father interrupted her.
"If you really wanted to you'd have to ask him. He is the one who will have to make his life with it. As for us we'd think about it should the possibility ever present itself." The look he gave his wife when she tried to speak again could've been a plea or a warning. It was hard to tell with him.
Deciding that she had spent enough time here Heulog abruptly bid them goodbye and went back home.
Seastnan watched the old human go. He had yet to decide if it was male or female but that wasn't very important. Instead he focused on the boy who had been preparing for sleep. And really it looked like it needed it. But there was something Seastnan wanted to know.
"How did you know?" Asked the elf bluntly.
The boy lifted his head in surprise "What?"
"You knew for the fire didn't you? You started preparing that basket just after you helped me down. How?"
The boy's expression shifted from surprise to distrust. "What are you talking about? It's stupid. How would I know?" and with that it laid himself on the smaller bed. It was a little too small and the boy had to keep his knees bent.
Seastnan thought about the human's questions for a little while. When he spoke again he saw the boy jump a little. "Why were you at the maze."
"What is that for a question?" Grumbled the boy in its pillow.
"Will I have to ask all my questions twice? Why were you at that maze that day?" Repeated Seastnan annoyed.
The boy lifted itself on its arms. "Because I wanted to." He snapped before falling back on the bed and rolling on his side, back to the elf.
Heulog came home to Bryn sleeping in her bed and the elf starring daggers at the boy's back.
She set the basket on the table and stored the list somewhere she wouldn't lose it. Behind her she heard the elf move and when she turned round he was sitting against the pillow, face almost white from the pain on his side.
"You shouldn't move it's not good for you."
He looked her way briefly. "How long before I can leave this bed?"
She shrugged, something he didn't see. "Everyone always ask me the same question. "How long before I can leave", "How long before I can go work again", but they never stay put long enough anyway and I see them back a few days later with their wounds reopened or the fever back and the only result is that they have to go back to bed. And the answer to your question master elf is that I won't know until I will have seen you wound completely healed. Speaking of which, it is time to change your bandages."
The wound was clean and closing slowly. The old human made an approving noise when it saw it. Then it applied some balm and redid the bandage.
Then ignoring him entirely it went to haul water from the river to fill a large cauldron. It lighted a fire under it and sat on a nearby chair with a tunic, a needle and began to mend it.
Seastnan watched it for a moment. Eventually he became bored of the silence. "Are you a witch?"
The human didn't stop what it was doing. "Some might say that. It depends on what you call a witch."
Seastnan lifted an eyebrow "I thought it was how you, humans, called you healers. What else can it be?"
"Witches are supposed to be able to use magic. I can't so technically I am no witch." It answered with the slow tone of those who repeat often the same thing.
"You are only a healer then?"
"I am "only" a healer. Yes."
"Is the other human a witch?"
This time it spared him a glance, but soon its eyes were fixed back on its work. " Why would you ask that?"
Seastnan ignored the way it avoided to answer. "So he is. Would his magic be to know the future?"
"Don't talk about what you don't know." Snapped the little human. "And don't go around accusing people of what they aren't. As for the boy let him be. For now you should really be resting."
Bryn wanted to strangle the elf. Since he had woken up he hadn't stopped to stare at him. The boy had even volunteered to go look for some medicine plant for Heulog when his body still ached from carrying the elf the other day. That was how bothering the gaze of the elf was.
At supper, when Heulog went for her usual walk, he decided he couldn't take it anymore.
The elf's expression remained composed. "What?"
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Said Bryn in a voice that he wanted calmer than it really was.
"You never answered my question."
"About the fire."
"I told you it was stupid."
The elf exhaled soundly. "Look human, I don't know what your people have against magic but my people would never think any less of someone who could use it. So why can't you just tell me the truth?"
Feeling intrigued Bryn took the time to ponder the outcome of a possible explanation.
Just tell him.
Massaging his temple and regretting already he sighed, "What would it matter to you anyway?"
It was the elf's turn to look uncertain.
"What do you know about what happened in the maze."
Not really seeing where this was leading Bryn shrugged. "Nothing. A bunch of your people shot you."
"What did you help me for then?"
Bryn didn't know to answer. Finally he settled on the same question he had been asked back then. "What did I have to loose?"
The elf stared at him hard and long. Finally he seemed to make a decision. "There are very dangerous people plotting the downfall of my prince back home. I learnt it a little by chance, a little because it is my duty to protect my prince. They accused me of being a traitor and tried to kill me so I had to flee. One or maybe two of the people you saw shoot me were part of the complot. I tried to warn my prince but I failed and he is now in great danger. I absolutely need to go back and tell him everything I know."
"What has it to do with me?"
"I can't just go there, the guard is after me, officially I am a traitor and if I was taken then I would be killed before I could tell anyone of what I know."
"So you want me to help you? But it doesn't work like that. I can't see the future. All I know is that I hear a voice in my head that warn me or sometimes simply give me advices. It doesn't tell me the future or the past, just… if someone is calling me or if something is happening that will affect me… That kind of things."
"But if you came with me you could tell me who I should be wary of and help me sneak into the palace."
"It's stupid. You won't even be able to get there with your wound."
"Elves heal fast. By the time we reach my city I would be fine. So what do you say?"
Bryn sighed. In the end it always came down to this same question "What have you to loose?"
Deirbhile: "Poet's daughter." Gaelic name composed of the elements der "daughter" and file "poet"
Anrai: Irish/Gaelic form of English Henry, meaning "home ruler".
Imhear: Scottish/Gaelic form of Scandinavian Ivor, meaning "bowman."
Heulog had asked if he was really sure to know what he was doing, to what the voice had answered that no one could really be sure. Of course it wasn't repeated to the old woman.
That's how, six days and very few sentences later, they were waiting out in the woods for the sun to set. When saying very few sentences, it would be more precise to say that beside what the elf had planned to do once in the elf city and some exchange of the like of "I make the fire you sort out the meal." or "Here is your plate." nothing was said. They hadn't become friend because of this journey and, Bryn at least, didn't feel comfortable enough to ask personal questions.
The elf had said that it would be easier to sneak in at night and so since midday they had stayed near a little pond and tried to get some sleep.
When the moon rose from her hiding behind the trees the elf gave the signal to go. They advanced as silently as possible, which was more silently for the elf than for the human. Bryn felt as if he couldn't make two steps without breaking a twig or walk on dried leaves. There was no lights or road to be seen in front of them so the human was really wondering of far this elf city was.
Bryn felt the change in atmosphere before he saw it around them. The trees were higher, there was more space between them, and the grass seemed greener, softer under his feet. There were more flowers around them, more bird songs coming from above.
Soon the path they had been following became more like a little road with stones delimiting it and sand replacing the grass. Looking more attentively at the biggest trees he could see light coming from beyond the leaves or sometimes even from the trunks. As if windows had been cut in them.
Watch your left, someone is coming.
He grabbed his companion's arm and pulled him with him behind a group of flowers bushes. As soon as they were hidden two elves came walking from the left. They were wearing silver armours the like of the one they had left at Heulog's but less decorated. They passed without looking back and disappeared behind a Tree. Squatted next to him his companion grumbled something along the lines of "shouldn't be here" but he wasn't sure and the elf didn't elaborate.
Back on their feet they left the bushes and advanced at a faster pace. Twice again they had to hide and the elf was looking more and more pale. When asked about his wound though he only answered that everything was fine. Bryn rolled his eyes inwardly. Elves.
As they advanced inside what he had to accept was the elf city, there was more and more of the beautiful beings. They were in the trees mostly, gathered on terraces but sometime Bryn saw a few of them wandering in what seemed like flower gardens on the ground. Those, as well as statues and fountains, seemed to be greatly appreciated here.
The elf palace, contrarily to the other houses, had been build out of white stone. It was high and looked strangely gracious and weightless. It was standing in a clearing and the moonlights glimmering on it made it look silver. Flowers and bushes with one or two higher trees but nothing as impressive as the one they had seen while coming here surrounded it. Bryn also noticed that the clearing seemed to make a perfect circle.
"Over there" murmured his companion "There's a passage for the servants. It shouldn't be guarded." Somehow the last sentence didn't sound as confident as the elf had been at the beginning of their journey.
They circled the castle until they reached a vegetable garden. A door was set in the wall but as they approached it the voice spoke again.
It is guarded.
The boy stopped abruptly and announced the new to his companion.
Even warned though, they still almost walked right into the guard.
This time it was the elf who grabbed Bryn's arm to stop him. As he did so the boy made out a shadow a little further away. There was a little tree there and someone was hidden in its shadow. For now they hadn't been seen but they weren't well hidden either. The elf made them retreat behind a rosebush and Bryn's sleeve was caught by the thorns. Thorns that tore it neatly and quite noisily. There was no way the guard would've missed it. Surely enough someone stepped out of the shadow.
"Imhear" gasped his companion next to him. And that too didn't go ignored by the guard. He was on them before they could move, and even with his sword still in its sheath he didn't look like one you could defeat easily. It didn't come to that though because when he saw who was accompanying Bryn whatever he was about to say got stuck in his throat and he went still. The other elf didn't let go of the opportunity and grabbed the guard by his arm and twisted it on its owner back as a knife was drawn to his throat. Giving what was probably a warning in this singing language of his, his companion then waited for the other to decide what to do.
The captured elf didn't try to resist and spoke softly. Bryn couldn't understand anything of the conversation the two elf were having but when it came to an end his companion released his prisoner and turning to Bryn he shortly informed him that the other elf was on their side.
Then they entered the palace and the boy was too taken by his surrounding to think much about anything else. He had never seen so many decorations in his entire life. The walls were engraved with flowery designs, at regular interval they crossed alcoves in which were vases of flowers. On the floor was a thick carpet whose colours were as lively as if it was new. Next to this Heulog's little house looked very poor and filthy. And it was just the servants' part of the place.
Someone is coming.
He repeated the information under the surprised gaze of the other elf. Happily for them there was an unoccupied room a few feet away. They hid there and soon enough someone passed in the hall. The unknown elf sent a disbelieved glance Bryn's way and asked something in elfin which was promptly answered in the same language. It was brief and as soon as the two elves were done the three of them returned to the hall.
At the first embranchment Bryn followed the two elves left but at the next they started to go left again and he stopped them.
Go right. Don't listen to them.
"Not this way." He went to take the lead but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"The prince's apartments are closer this way." Argued the other elf.
Bryn shook his head and shrugged the hand off is shoulder. Then addressing the on he had come with he said. "Maybe they are. Maybe that day I should've gone right home instead of pushing on as far as the maze. I only warn, you decide what to do."
He didn't wait for an answer and hurried down the right hall. There was a pause and then someone was following, soon the both of them were walking at his left. They were discussing again. Apparently the other elf wasn't happy.
Imhear had been very surprise when he rounded that bush to fall on Seastnan. Since the hunt in the woods he had had nightmares where he saw his friend die over and over again. Somehow he felt responsible. He had been there but since he had doubted Seastnan's fidelity to their prince he hadn't tried to protect him.
And there wasn't only him. It was said that since Lady Deirbhile had learnt the death of her brother's guard she hadn't eaten or been seen out of her room. Her chambermaid had even told the royal healer that she was worried that her mistress would fall ill if she continued.
So the feeling when he saw his friend in front of him, a little white but alive, had been one of great relief. That was why he had been so eager to help Seastnan find a way to talk to the prince.
What he had more difficulties to accept was the human. Human were rarely seen in the elf city. Even more rare were those who had entered the palace. And this one only opened its mouth to tell them were to go or when someone was approaching. Seastnan had explained that he owed the human his life and it was probable that they both owed him more than once to avoid unwanted encounter. But still, in his opinion humans definitively didn't belong in the palace.
The boy was slowly leading them toward the upper levels, where the royal apartments were situated; only they were on the other side of the edifice. When they left the interior of the palace for the open sky of the terrace he was a little disconcerted, until he saw the solitary silhouette sitting on a bench. Seastnan recognized the prince at the same time as he did.
"Anrai." Finally, finally he could talk to him. It was largely worth the burning in his side were the wound was protesting each of his movements, largely worth the week running with too less sleep and the silent return with the unspeaking human.
Approaching his prince and friend, he was surprised to see him get up suddenly and turning to him in a hurry.
On his face surprise had barely the time to appear before it was replaced with relief and finally the prince's face became his usual expressionless self.
"I am glad to see you. I think it is time for us to have a long conversation."
Seastnan smiled briefly. Anrai hadn't called the guard immediately and was giving him a chance to explain.
It was exactly what he did, trying to stick to the essential. What he had discovered, how he had been accused and, most briefly of all, what had happened since he had fled. Only at the end of his speech did Anrai call the guard, but when they recognized Seastnan and went for him the prince stopped them and sent them to take care of those whom Seastnan had accused. He also summoned the council to expose them what had been discovered and soon the small terrace was too small to contain all the gathered people. They moved to the main hall were the prince made sure that everything that could be done right now would be. Seastnan was interrogated at least a dozen times and they didn't sleep for the whole night so by the time everything had cooled down a little the elf was feeling like he had one week ago in the wood. But there was till two things that needed to be taken care of. Anrai agreed with him and took care of the preparation for the first one while Seastnan went to take care of the second one, followed by Imhear just in case.
In front of the door he hesitated. Briefly. Knocking on the door he waited for someone to answer. When the door opened on a young elf he didn't know he pushed past her and let to Imhear the task to explain what was happening and to calm her. He didn't hesitate one second at the second door. Opening it without knocking he then approached swiftly of the silhouette sitting in front of the large window.
"I asked you to let me alone." Said a feeble voice.
"I really hope you don't mean that." He answered while circling the chair he kneeling in front of Deirbhile.
He was met with wide teary eyes that looked at him like one would look at a ghost. Then her beautiful face was illuminated by a smile and she threw herself in his arms, crying in relief and joy.
From the moment they reached that terrace Bryn stopped understanding any of what was happening. Mainly because there was a lot of talking, also because there was such movement all around that he couldn't keep trace of where the only elf he knew was. Guards started gathering, then they all departed in different directions, some only as far as some of the guests present there, guests who were escorted away under the wide eyes of their companions.
It took them quite some time to remember his presence and when they did so it was only to lead him in a little room were he was left alone. A few hours later food was brought to him but the elf who was carrying it only stayed long enough to put the trail on the table.
The second time someone entered it was his companion, dressed in clothes so fine they would have cost a house back home. He was following the elf they had found on the terace who was as richly dressed if not more. Kooked at his companion's arm as if she would never let go was the most beautiful woman he would ever see. The three of them hovered above him for a little while before the woman advanced and spoke to him.
"We thank you for what you did. As proof of our gratitude we would be glad if you accepted this gift."
Another elf approached who was holding a bow in his hands. And it was a very fine object indeed. Engraved with gold in finely design of leaves and the elf gave it to him he could appreciate its lightness and flexibility as well as the quiver, containing twenty or so arrows, that accompanied it. The present was really beautiful, he would make more than on jealous when he would show it at the village.
He thanked them and the lady smiled to him. At this same moment other elves came, speaking in that beautiful language of theirs that excluded any human and before he could really understand what was happening he had been accompanied back at the exit of the palace and whished what was probably a farewell.
A few miles away from the elf city he stopped to think on anything that had happened in the last week and it suddenly stuck him that he didn't know the name of the elf, who probably still didn't know his.