Revelations Of Mystery
I awoke some time later. The fire had died low to a warm and glowing ring of coals, the charred ends of thick logs still lying smoldering around the edges. It was dawn, the golden rays of the new-risen sun floating horizontally through the trees and staining the mist that covered the ground. The large clearing in which I found myself was empty, and there was no trace of the cavalry of men who had carried us here in a rushing windstorm of dream during the night. Sitting up, I pulled the blanket close around my shoulders, shivering in the early autumn morning as I examined my surroundings.
The trees grew thick and close around the edges of the clearing, save for in one place behind me where the underbrush had been flattened and broken away, leaving a space for horses to pass unhindered. Across the smoking remains of the fire, on the far side of the clearing, stood a small round tent, the thick green canvas of its sides moving slightly in the early dawn breeze. No other signs of life broke the empty loneliness of the glade.
I looked at Netya, watching the blanket rise and fall with her breathing as she slept. She looked nearly peaceful, and I stood up carefully so as not to wake her. Pulling the blanket closer around her shoulders, I turned and began to walk, skirting the edges of the fire towards the tent. My legs felt weak, and I stumbled often over the uneven ground, nearly falling.
Finally reaching the doorway of the tent, I stopped. Cautiously reaching out, I grasped the edge of the door flap and pulled it quietly back, stepping inside. It fell shut with the soft whisper and slap of canvas behind me, cutting off the light from outside. I stood blinking a few moments, me eyes unaccustomed to the darkness. Then I turned slowly, examining the small space. The walls of the tent were hung inside with thick tapestries, insulating the interior of the tent and trapping in the warmth that came from another smoldering fire, this one much smaller than the bonfire outside had been. It glowed contained in a small brazier. Thick curtains hung across one side of the room, blocking my view into it. I walked to them, reaching out to pull them aside, when a sound from outside pulled my attention away. I turned quickly, ducking back out of the tent into the morning light.
Netya stood in the center of the clearing wrapped in a blanket, staring around her in confusion. Seeing me, she called out again, and I smiled. She ran to my side, grabbing me in a fierce hug. “Oh Alasse…we’re safe! But…but how? What happened? Where is Thalon? I dreamed the man came and took us! He was bending over me, laughing. It was horrible. But…where are we?”
I smiled at her flood of words, glad that she seemed to be so quickly recovering from the horror and stress of the past few nightmarish days. The rest of the night before must have done her more good than me. I began to explain what had happened, the events standing out like dream happenings in my mind. When I finished, Netya pulled me gently back down to sit on the blankets by the warm embers of the fire. She spoke quietly in the silence of the morning. “Alasse…who are these men? From your description, they do not have the uniforms of the Castle Guard. Neither are they the Rangers Thalon spoke of. They are too well trained for that. And how did they find us? How did they happen to be so close to where we were? And why did they care to risk their own lives to save ours? They do not know us,” she said.
“I know,” I answered slowly, “I have thought the same things. They are not from the Guard, and they are not Rangers. And yet…they seemed to know Thalon, at least by name. Last night, when they bore him away, I told the one who rescued us that his name was Thalon, and he seemed surprised, nearly afraid. I can’t understand it…” I stopped talking, my throat still aching from the sting of the smoke.
Netya sat in silence a moment, fingering the edge of the blanket we sat on. When she looked up again, her eyes were longing, wistful. “Alasse…how far do you think we are from home? How far from the castle?”
I shook my head. “I couldn’t say. I lost all sense of direction when we rode last night. We must be ever so far, Netya.”
She sighed. “Yes. I suppose. I wonder if the men will come back…Do you think Thalon is alright?”
“They did not act as though he was in immediate danger last night,” I said, remembering the green-clad man who had bent over my friend. “Remember he seemed to be recovering, last night in…in the fire.”
“Mm…I remember. Is he in the tent? You were in there…” Netya trailed off, looking questioningly at me.
“I don’t know. There did not seem to be anyone there. I could not see, though…there was a space blocked off with curtains, and I heard you call before I could look.”
Netya stood up, grabbing my hand and pulling me to my feet. “Come on, let’s go look! Oh Alasse, I hope…I hope he’s alright.”
Before we could turn and make our way to the tent, however, the sound of running hooves beating through underbrush trembled into the clearing. A few seconds later, a man on horseback broke through the trees, cantering up to where we stood and rearing to a halt.
As he dismounted, I recognized the man as the one who had rescued us from the burning cabin. Dropping his horse’s reins over its neck, he walked up to us, smiling. Waving a hand to indicate the empty clearing, he spoke. “The men have all gone off after Pethnor’s horde. I didn’t want to leave you alone, so I came back to see that you and your friend stay safe. My name is Berion,” he said, bowing and smiling at us. “Forgive my not introducing myself earlier, but there was not much of a chance, if you take my meaning. You said your friend is called Thalon. That is…a name not many of us do not know,” he said, his face serious again. “But tell me. What are your names, and how did you come to be in his company? If it is not too much for me to ask,” he added hastily, seeing my surprised glance at Netya.
“No, it is alright,” I replied quickly. “I just…don’t understand…you know Thalon?”
Berion nodded his head. “Yes. Well, not personally. But I know of him. That comes as a surprise?” he asked, looking keenly at me.
“Well, yes, it does,” I replied slowly. “I don’t understand how you could know him…you are not of the Castle Guard, and you are not Rangers. I suppose he is the son of the Captain of the Guard, but still…” I trailed off.
Berion shook his head, laughing. “No, I am not a Guard nor a Ranger. But your friend’s name is known among much wider circles than the ones you are familiar with, miss. But,” he added, glancing at the sky, “I can explain it to you later, if you wish. The morning is passing, and I am anxious to know your story. It may be important,” he said, sitting down near the glowing embers and motioning for us to do likewise.
We sat, and I began our tale, introducing myself and Netya and relating how we came to be in the forest, so far from home and in such desperate straits. As I related how the dark cloaked man had insisted that someone by the name of Saewon was hidden in the cabin with us, Berion’s expression grew tense and concerned. When I had finished, he sat in silence for a while, poking absently at the nearly cold ashes of the fire with a stick.
Finally, Netya broke the silence. “But…how did you come to be near the cabin? Near enough to rescue us? And why did you do it? You were risking your life…and you do not know us.”
Berion, pulling himself from his thoughts, smiled at Netya. “My men and I were out riding the woods, searching for Pethnor. We…got a tip from someone about his location…near to the cabin you were in. We were riding in that direction when we saw the light from the fire. We were going to follow Pethnor’s men into the woods, but I heard someone call out inside the cabin. I couldn’t just leave whoever was inside to such a death.”
I smiled up into Berion’s kind face. “Thank you. Another minute and…I don’t like to think,” I finished, shuddering.
Berion nodded. “It would not be the first time Pethnor has resorted to burning his enemies to death.”
“But why us?” Netya asked. “Why are we his enemies? I mean, certainly we are not his allies. But he does not know us. We’re only two girls. What can we do against someone like Pethnor?”
A long moment passed before Berion answered. When he did, his voice was low and deadly serious. “Quite a lot, Netya. Quite a lot. You may only be two young girls as you said. But Pethnor is too wise to underestimate even a child. One slip, and he would be lost. No, you are his enemies. He does not know your names, maybe, but you are his enemies. And he will stop at nothing until his enemies are exterminated.”