Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The King's Challenge #206/207/208

TKC 206, 207 and 208

We are exhausted from the race to attain safety; I hear snores and grunts from everywhere as folk sleep the oblivion of those pushed beyond the limits.

I cannot sleep, however.

This man Hal, he is Delver. I need to know if he is able to reach Damin.

“Leave it till morning, “Kay murmurs to me as we turn from the jumble of rocks. Clearly he has read my mind; I guess it does not at this time require magic to fathom where my thoughts are.

I shake my head. By morning, whatever guise ‘morning’ will assume in a dark place cavities, I will be mad with impatience.

The corners of Hal’s eyes crinkle as he smiles at me. I like him more and more. He appears gruff, but is a kind man, an understanding man. He also takes no nonsense and we need that right now.

“I am still awake enough to make an attempt or two,” he tells me. “Let us find a quiet space.”

We are in what I have already dubbed an antechamber. It feels as if someone long ago created an entrance to what lies beyond with this space. The cave is fairly large and high, and arches lead in various directions from it, with the one main ingress, the one now closed over with rocks. In fact, looking at it now in the light of the single rush torch Kay propped in a crack, it occurs to me someone did create this. It is too organised to be natural. Perhaps the ancient Ilfin hid here in times past.

Hal leads us into a small and empty cave to the left of where the families and children are deeply asleep. He points to a small pool in the centre. “I would call this the wellspring. A long time ago someone planned for fresh water.” Lifting his arm, he gestures into the dark recesses. “There is a stream. If we follow it we may find a larger source.”

“Not tonight,” Kay murmurs.

Hal laughs. “No, not tonight.”

We sit around the small pond, each cupping hands to drink our fill. Marian has joined us; she does not speak much, clearly, preferring to listen. A trait the Messengers are known for. They know how to listen.

“Tell me about your talent,” I say to Marian, thereby giving Hal time to compose himself.

The woman sighs and rubs at her cheeks. She is tired, but she is also weary of hiding her true self. Now she need no longer do so. She adjusts her greying hair into a tidier knot on top of her head and proceeds to smooth her wrinkled and travel worn tunic. It possesses no colour, for the pressures of her journey have hidden what was. I know we all appear grey now; the search for a haven has brushed us with a unifying hue.

“I grew up east of Alarn,” Marian begins. “If you know Alarn, you’ll know how conservative that city is, but we were freer where the forests ruled the land. We vanished as small communities into pretty clearings amid old trees.” She smiles. “It was a good life. My parents believed a girl should know how to read and taught me, bless them. Anyway, there I was, on a cloudy day when the wind began to howl. Never have I known such wind. It grew ever stronger, shaking even the old giants with their long-tentacled roots. Smaller trees began to fall, braches flew and the treetops started shredding. I know I was afraid, as was my sister, and we started running for home …”

“How old were you?” I insert.

“I was seventeen, my sister was ten. We had been sent out to gather the cones for their seeds. A treat, but it meant we needed many cones.” Again she smiles as memory is made fresh. “We dropped our haul and started running. We could barely keep our feet, the wind was that strong.” She pauses to stare at her hands. “We entered a clearing and there we could not stand, never mind walk. The wind was like a wall of power and attacked us. It also attacked the trees on the perimeter … groaning, creaking, tearing …” On a sob, Marian looks up. “A giant trunk lifted into the air, twisted around and hurtled straight for us … and we could not move except to cower and pray.” Swallowing, she whispers, “I threw my hands up and screamed for it to go away. It did.”

Her silence then speaks volumes.

“Your sister?” I ask in a whisper.

“We survived, both of us,” Marian says in a stronger tone. “No one believed me, about that the tree disappeared, and therefore I did not speak of it after a while. But I tested other things. A boulder underwater that always tripped us in the river’s currents … I made it go away. One day fire threatened the forest and I sent it to open land where it found no fuel and died.” She looks at me directly then. “Later I found a scroll in the Messenger archive.”

“You discovered you are an Elemental,” Kay says.

Marian nods. “Hal here opened up to me about seeing thoughts as images and …” She stops there and shrugs. “It is good to share this. A year ago already we were being rounded up for talents, no doubt to kill us.”

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