It felt like a lifetime before the sun finally showed its face. Like a lost little boy searching for his friend I zigged this way and zagged another. My clothes were soaked right through to the bone. Once I had known comfort, strength, sanity, but none of these traits remained any longer. Comfort was traded for reality, strength for fear, and sanity… What was I doing? Where was I going? I was almost afraid to ask the most ominous question of them all… what had happened. I saw the wolves, their destructive intentions clear: out-numbered eight-to-one, yet somehow it was I who walked aimlessly through the rain, not a pack of wolves, stomachs heavy with their last meal. The more perplexing question which I had been evading, circled around my mind, running a marathon that I couldn’t seem to win… those eyes… so desperate, pleading for their very life. Why should I pity the wolf? Why should I care? Yet somehow I did.
I did not look at the horn, but I could feel it cold and hard in my hand. What was this strange trinket that I had happened upon? Did it have anything to do with the strange events that I had witnessed. Did it have something to do with the remaining lone wolf… or was it a raven… If ever I had known sanity, now was not my finest hour. Things in my life had not necessarily always been good, but at least they made sense… until now. The quest I could handle, the unknown I could face… but this… this was more than the unknown, it was the illogical.
The sun pulled me from my trance-like state… The spotlight shot through the cliffs all around me, like a shaft through a cracked castle wall. I was no longer heading west, but north. The mountains rose around me, more dense than I had remembered. How long had I been travelling? Turning around I saw the same scenery, no hint of the hills which I had passed through to get here.
It hit me like a blow to the chest from a lunging wolf… the fatigue. It toppled me over, forcing me back onto a large rock. Sitting there, more of my sanity returned. My feet felt like weights of iron dangling from a bridge as I gave them a rest. Being so tired I had no desire to carry any more weight than necessary. Such thoughts led me to strip off my armour, one piece at a time until I was left in my travelling clothes adorned by nothing more than a sword belt. I pulled the cloak which had previously sat over-top of my armour from the pile of iron I had made at the base of the rock. It was all I had left to visually set me apart from the commoner, showing that I was in the employ of Lady Calwen of Glanderxe. I decided against leaving it behind, hanging it from my shoulders, over-top of my common clothes, the golden “G” of Glanderxe taking its rightful place on my chest. Now, more properly clothed for my tired state I felt that I should continue, but my attempts to rise from the rock proved fruitless. I could no more rise than discern where I was. My mind swimming in confusion and fatigue, I fell asleep.
I woke to the smell of fresh meat, cooking on an open fire. The thief who had previously been in my custody sat by a fire she had fashioned, turning a spit slowly. As I lifted my head from the stone it had found rest on, a throbbing ensued, most likely due to my extreme exhaustion and lack of proper sleeping arrangement. I let out a soft groan caused by the discomfort.
“You know, Sir Mert,” she began, without turning around. “Most people prefer to sleep when the moon is high and the light is low. If you plan on reaching the River West it might prove beneficial to adopt such a habit, as the roads are more perilous by the moonlight.”
“What do you know of peril,” I replied bitterly. “You left me to die last night! We are the farthest thing from friends, but at least you could show a little decency and care for human life!” The journey would be lonely, but I was beginning to think that bringing her along was a mistake. My aim was not to become close friends with a thief, but I at least hoped that maybe she would provide some company on the lonely road to the next town.
“Left you to die?” She reached out to turn the meat once again. “Clearly you are mistaken, for you still live. Riul has shown you her favour.”
“Has she now?” Her little story from the previous night about this god had not eased my mind, nor had it given me any desire to join the faith. “Was her favour in the wind or the rain? Or perhaps it was the wolves. Yes! That must be it! They were sent to sing me to sleep and I merely misjudged their intentions!” The only thing I perceived to be in my favour was sarcasm.
She gave no reply to me, but simply removed the meat from the fire and handed it to me. “Here. I have already eaten.”
I took the spit hesitantly. My stomach welcomed the sweet smell of the meal and waited in expectation, but my mind was not so willing. It seemed like she was being nice to me. It must be some sort of cruel trickery. My stomach won the battle over my mind, and though I still did not trust her intentions, the food was welcome, fulfilling a need I could not myself. I took a small bit of the meat, the heat warming my face as it drew near my mouth. The meat was a little tough and could use some seasoning, but I was in no position to complain.
Watching me, she bowed her head slightly. “May the meat of Riul bless you.”
“I was wondering what type of beast this was. I didn’t know that I was devouring your god!” It was my turn to poke fun at her words. She had found great pleasure it doing the same to me in the past, and I found little joy from it, but some nonetheless. My mouth curved upwards in a cruel smile as I took another bite.
“Riul was the provider, and you the hunter. What once was your predator is now your food.”
Wolf meat. It had a curious taste to it that I couldn’t quite identify. The meat of the wild Keltone beasts was not a common sight on the table in the castle. We mostly feasted on stag or bull with the odd raven thrown in for good measure. I continued my meal in silence. I didn’t have the energy for banter and she seemed to have no desire to argue with the silence. I found some joy in it, and as I ate, the pain in my head subsided a little as I began to relax. I was still unease about her strange and unfamiliar attitude towards me, but as I fought with the meat, like an ox chewing the cud, I enjoyed the silence.
She stared at me intently as I ate the meal. The peace I found in the silence was battled by the awkward stare that she gave me. There was a strange look of wonder in her eyes. I nearly finished the meat before I could no longer hold in my curiosity at her strange actions. “What is it?” I asked her simply.
Confusion was added to her look of awe, but she gave no verbal reply.
“You stare at me like I have done something extraordinary and feed me like it is your duty. I care not if you wish to treat me this way, for it is far better than your previous attitude toward me, but I know not what has caused this sudden change of heart.”
“Only the Newborn direct the voice of Riul as you do.” She replied with simplicity as if such a statement should clear up any confusion that I had. It did not. I saw her eyes drifting to the horn which I had hung on my belt before falling asleep against my will.
I pulled the horn from my belt and handed it to her. “It’s a trinket I bought from a little man I ran into on the road just north of the great forest. He called it the “Horn of Riul.”
She turned it over in her hands with that same look of wonder in her eyes. “The Horn of Riul,” she repeated slowly and softly.
It suddenly became clear to me what she was talking about. “You think because of the horn I can call on Riul?” I stopped, allowing myself to laugh a little before I continued. “If only that were the case! I bought it from a travelling merchant on the chance that it would prove useful. It turns out, however, that his tale was a falsehood. That horn has no more power than any ordinary hunting horn.”
The incredulity in her eyes was unmistakable as she looked up at me. “How can one without faith call on the voice of Riul? You are not Firstborn… you are not even Tallri.”
“You answered your own question, thief. I cannot direct the voice of Riul.” I said with finality.
“What of the wolves? If Riul had not come to your aid, you would not be enjoying a meal, but would instead be one.” She motioned to the remains of the meat that I still held in my hand.
“If I could direct the voice of Riul, there would have been no wolves, nor wind, nor rain. The only thing that saved me last night was an act of nature very much out of my control.”
“Riul is the goddess of nature.” Her simple reply said it all. She truly believed that I held some mystical power over nature!
I decided that I would play her game. “Suppose that the falling rocks was not the natural result of the noise from the horn. Let’s suppose that I have some kind of magical power, gifted from Riul through this horn. What of it? Why would this matter so much to you?”
“I am Kyra of the Tallri of Mhoarid.”