TKC 165 and 166
With the arrival of daylight – a grey smudge – we ride for the rim. Fast, stopping twice to water the horses. Proof had arrived that Arc had commenced its campaign. We are out of time. Whatever we believe in and trust to no longer features; we need to do something before it escalates.
As night falls again, we see the lights of campfires, thousands of amber glows. The host is ahead. We do not stop, although we now walk our mounts to prevent them coming to injury in the darkness.
Two hours later we exit the treeline and there we come finally to a halt.
Seeing it like this, the host is larger than we realised. Fires dot the mountainside, glow from within caves and under overhangs, and nestle amid trees.
“By the stars, if the ancient Glonu succeed they will have a mighty army,” Damin states.
“Massin will be conquered,” Siri adds.
Lyra focuses on Damin. “Find Mirlin first. He is leader here.” The way she gazes at Damin reveals she prompts him to delve the man before making new decisions.
“And Manuel,” Kay puts in. “He too will know how it goes here.”
Attis, who has uttered barely a word since last night’s battle, but stuck to Lyra’s side throughout the day, stands in his stirrups and points. “There.”
The boy points at a fire higher than the others. We notice a few figures moving and throwing shadows on rock. It appears they are in the mouth of a cave.
I nudge my horse. “Slowly; we go slowly. Greet as we go, but say nothing until we are there.” I lead the way and the others fall in behind.
Carefully we wind through small gatherings around their fires. Some ignore us,; most call greeting of some kind. By the time we near the high fire, our progress to it is obvious to those gathered there.
Mirlin and Manuel together await us as we approach. Glancing at Damin, I notice his fixed expression, but say not a word.
“Harri,” Mirlin says as we climb from our mounts, “take the horses to water.” A boy pops from the darkness and gathers reins, whistling for a friend to come help him.
Mirlin bows and takes Lyra’s hand. “My lady, I am glad to see you safe.”
She smiles. “Safe and hungry.”
Mirlin grins. “We brought a deer down today. Food we have. Come within.” He clasps arms with Damin. “Good to see your ugly face too.”
The manner in which Damin grins tells me this westerner is Ilfin. I discover I am much relieved. Mirlin possesses skills we can well use soon.
Manuel and Kay slap backs and grin foolishly at each other. I watch Damin’s face. He is stoic. Manuel, clearly, is not Ilfin, although Kay is. These two men are as brothers; their loyalties will be tested. Inwardly I sigh. Every friendship will now be subject to distrust.
“Horin.” I focus as Mirlin speaks my name. “You have grown some.” The man stands grinning before me. “See you have a sword also. Nice. Can you use it?”
I laugh, suddenly liking the man. “I can use it.”
“Excellent,” Mirlin chortles. “Hungry?”
“Terribly,” I grin.
“Attis!” Mirlin calls out.
I notice how Damin’s lips briefly tighten. Damn. Not Attis. “Perhaps Attis will prefer spending some time with those of his own age,” I murmur. “Not so, Attis?” I gaze around, allowing my attention to settle on Manuel. “Do you know where the young hang out?”
“Sure. Come, boy.” Manuel gestures, and the two vanish downhill.
“I will see you in the morning, Attis!” Lyra calls after.
I gaze at Damin, who nods expressionlessly and says in a quiet tone, “Anything we discuss here may not be shared with either Attis or Manuel.”