Chapter 10: Of Beasts in the Wild
Sadly the weather did not hold, and the rains were soon upon them again as they made their way day by day north, and away from Ermèn, Timothaï, Arian and the rest of Elven’s family. It was yet early in the year and the air was chill, but the frost left the ground and they found their way often impeded by thick marshes and bogs that grew seemingly overnight. It was now that Brandyé was grateful for Elven’s apprenticeship as a healer, for he concocted a brew of herbs and leaves that reinvigorated them both in the drear; had Brandyé been alone, he felt, he would have long since succumbed to fever.
Indeed, so different was the experience of traveling with a friend that for many days Brandyé remained in remarkably good spirits, despite the ever-present downpours and mud. Whether they spent long treks in silence or mealtimes deep in conversation, Brandyé was humbled and grateful for the company, and whenever he looked upon Elven he felt a surge of affection and knew there was hope yet for Erâth: if two friends could overcome so deep a rift of pain and guilt, then surely any Darkness could be vanquished.
And so with every step and day that passed Brandyé found the memories of Sonora bore less pain, and indeed ceased to occupy his thoughts so frequently. Even the sight of the falcon who bore the girl’s name was comfort to Brandyé, for she had come with them of course, and flew over their heads by day and kept watch.
Indeed, Sonora’s presence was comfort beyond mere familiarity, for Brandyé was yet unsure what manner of creatures might inhabit these forests as they continued to travel north, and the knowledge that they had with them a pair of eyes far above the tree tops was a great reassurance, even if the bird would be less than useful against the beasts that Brandyé feared the most.
To this end he marched often with a hand on Fahnat-om, though for two weeks he did not even remove it from its scabbard; his crossbow he kept ever beneath his cloak, other than for hunting. Elven did not go unarmed either; the blade he had borne with him when Brandyé had first encountered him in the woods near their home remained by his side, and slung over his shoulder he carried a longbow, with which he had a keen aim. Indeed, there was much friendly competition between the two over this, with much of their rests occupied in comparing aim against distant branches. Brandyé did not allow Elven to hunt, however; so insistent he was that the animals they ate died without suffering that he would not risk a stray shot, no matter how sure Elven’s aim appeared in practice.
For nearly two weeks they continued in this fashion, and whether they had traveled twenty miles or two hundred Brandyé could not say. The trees appeared to continue on without end, though mountains began to rise again to the northeast and forced them to turn west, keeping always to the valleys.
Early one evening they emerged from the trees at the top of a rise and found themselves looking down upon a wide lake, smooth and gray as the clouds above. It seemed to fill the entire valley and widened to the north, to where the shore even gave way to high cliffs that mounted to the peaks above. They could not see the far end of the lake for it curved to follow the bend of the valley, but in the distance there were several small islands covered in trees. Brandyé thought the view might even have been picturesque, were it not for the twilight gloom.
As it was, they descended the hill toward the water, and found without difficulty a place to pass the night in a small grass plain near the wide stream that fed the lake. As night descended Brandyé set going a fire while Elven filled their gourds from the flowing water.
“Which direction shall we choose from here?” Elven asked as they ate that night. The rain had ceased, though the weather remained cool, and they sat on stones by the fire, which Brandyé had stoked high. Their meal was light – pine seeds gathered during the day, the bones of a rabbit caught some nights before, and the last few crumbs of bread from their outset, now stale and dry.