Chapter 9: A Journey Begins
Come the morning, Brandyé was anxious to return to Ermèn, for Sonora had returned empty-clawed. After a small breakfast he set out through the woods, and Elven accompanied him.
“I very much want to meet a man who lives under a tree,” said Elven.
“He will likely tell you that you will die of ill fortune, or that you will make one from the mushrooms that grow in his den,” replied Brandyé, and the two laughed – it was a merry sound, ringing out among the needles and leaves, and it seemed to somehow brighten the morning.
It happened that it was not as far from the Dotterys home to Ermèn’s as it had seemed the night before, for they had arrived within half an hour. It is also possible that neither of them made much of the time, for they spent the walk deep in conversation, each feeling that there was much time to make up for.
Ermèn was not in when they arrived, and so they sat upon a log and continued to talk. They talked of adventures, of the past, of the present and of the future, and before he knew it Brandyé had hope in his heart, for against all odds he had been reunited with loved ones, and deep in the back of his mind he wondered if Elỳn’s prophecy might be true.
There was one subject they did not speak of, of course, and Brandyé was relieved at this. So many times had he revisited Sonora’s death alone that he had no wish to revisit it in Elven’s company.
So it was that they were in a most pleasant mood when from the woods came, “Ah! You have a friend!”
Both looked up to find Ermèn leaning upon his staff, a peculiar grin upon his face, and a peculiar thing in his pocket. “Who is this?” he asked.
“My name is Elven,” he said, “and I am glad to meet you.”
“I am glad to meet you too,” said Ermèn. “I trust your family is well?”
Elven started at this, and said, “How do you know of my family?”
“How indeed?” said Ermèn, and Brandyé knew they would get no answer from him on the matter.
From his pocket Ermèn drew forth a small furred animal, and Brandyé saw with curiosity that it was a kind of small rodent, similar to a mouse. “I have brought a present,” Ermèn said, and Brandyé thought it was a most peculiar present until with a flutter Sonora the falcon descended upon them, and settled on the ground only a few paces from them. Ermèn lightly tossed the vole to her, and with a squeal and a squawk the bird dove into her breakfast.
Elven was shocked and Brandyé appalled, but Ermèn only said, “A falcon needs her food, as do we. Shall we have tea?” He then pushed upon the hidden door in the tree, and stepped downward and into his home.
“What strange person is this?” Elven whispered. “He knows of things he cannot know of!”
But Brandyé merely shrugged and said, “That is his manner, and nothing will change it. I doubt very much you will get a straight answer from him today, yet somehow you will learn something also.”
They then followed Ermèn into the tree, and at the foot of the stairs Ermèn’s home was as well-lit, warm and comfortable as always, and it was a welcome relief from the chill morning air. Ermèn already had a pot boiling over the stove and mugs on the table, and so Brandyé and Elven sat. A fresh loaf sat on a board and Brandyé offered his friend a slice, though he did not tell him what it was made of. “What an odd taste,” said Elven. “But pleasant. What is it?”
“One of Ermèn’s peculiarities,” Brandyé said, and made no further discussion of it.
“Have you and your kin been here long in the forest?” asked Ermèn.
“Since last winter,” replied Elven. “We thought ourselves alone – we did not even see a footprint from you. Brandyé tells me you have lived here long, though – why did you not approach us?”
Ermèn raised his eyebrows. “Did you need me to?”
Elven of course frowned at the question, but said, “I suppose not. Still – it seems rude.”
“Oh!” said Ermèn, and Brandyé smiled for it was a departure from his usual “Ah!”. “I did not mean to be rude. But – how could you think it rude if you did not know I was here?”