For Chapter Two, click here
The forest was still dark and dismal. Raen imagined the sun would soon begin to creep into the sky. Even so, it made for a difficult feat, treading of unearthed roots, rocks, and ice. The darkness that shrouded her vision was only becoming increasingly agitating as her search went on.
“I told you I’m less useful than a candle.” she said under her breath. After a slew of curses and battling a wall of dead branches, Raen found herself in a small clearing. The young elf drew in a long, even breath and surveyed what she had found. While the area was spacious and barren, the tall hanging branches above provided some shelter with shade. The fading moonlight filtered through the trees to make chimerical patterns on the ground below and as the wind blew snow in, it glinted under the light before disappearing again.
The quiet she found here was calming, yet she couldn't will her pulse to slow. Her mind still raced around thoughts of the boy. Raen decided that chasing shadows through a dark forest was not only futile but also idiotic. Instead she rested her weary body against a tree trunk and stared up, awaiting the suns return to the sky. As she did so, her eyes began to close until she was asleep beneath the canopy of trees. She remained like that for a while, undisturbed and peaceful, if only from exhaustion. It didn't last for very long though. A snapping sound had her head jerking upright and her body tensing. Her hands searched for some sort of weapon as she forced herself to stand, but she came up with nothing. The young elf heard another sound. It was closer this time, and Raen proceeded to back away from it, cautiously eyeing the area she believed it was coming from. Another noise echoed, and it had her heart in her throat as she continued to back up.
In a moment, something tumbled forward. It broke the branches and rustled the bushes as it did so landing in a heap. Raen yelped and jumped backwards, tripping over the uneven ground. The boy sat, blinking wildly for a moment and shook his head as if to clear it. The pair stared at each other, wide eyed, from across the clearing. As their minds processed the events that had just taken place, they both just sat statuesque on the ground until one finally made an effort to break the silence. The little boy snickered.
“You have a stick in your hair.” He giggled.
Raen blinked furrowing her brows and shuffled to her feet. “Yeah, well, you should see what you look like!” She said defensively and pulled at the wood that had knotted itself into her braid. She looked to the little boy who sat in a ball, resting his chin on his knees. She could finally get a good look at him. He was a peculiar looking snow elf child with wide features and a goofy smile. His hair was lighter than Raen’s but cut to his jaw line which only exaggerated the shape of the little boy’s face. His eyes were a redeeming feature, she decided. They were very large and full of the naive wonderment people seemed to be infatuated with in small children. Raen thought this had to be the child she had seen spared at the Nord’s fire, yet he didn’t seem distraught. Raen only became aware she was staring when the young boy – who had apparently been babbling- spoke again.
“What?” She asked and shook herself mentally as the boy repeated his question.
“What’s your name?” His head cocked and his eyes fixated on the girl.
“Why?” Raen asked slowly.
He giggled again, which only made Raen sneer. She didn’t like to be laughed at, especially by some strange little kid.
“It’s only a name. Don’t you know a name is the first thing you ever learn about someone?” the boy asked, finally moving to stand up. Raen watched curiously as the little boy stood up and dusted his hands off on his tattered shirt. He strode up to the girl confidently and stuck out a tiny, pale hand. “Mine’s Ayric.” She stared at the hand a while, then realized how stupid she must have seemed. “Raen. My name is Raen.”
She finally realized that the shadows had been chased away from the sky. In lieu of the dreary darkness, a bright new light had begun to shine. While relief washed over her, memories of the night before came flooding back. The path to Heirsuun was a three day journey and even though the Nord’s were slow and intoxicated half the time, they were taking the direct paths. She looked down at Ayric who was studying her quizzically. It was as if she was thinking aloud. Raen knew he would be a liability, extra carrying weight she couldn’t afford. Yet, she couldn’t leave him. There was enough humanity in her to know she couldn’t turn her back on a child, especially when he had lost everything, just like her.
“Do you know where any of your family is?” Raen finally asked.
The boy shook his head. “I don’t have a family. Mrs. Gwyn took care of me at Frost Haven. She was a nice lady, I always got to go outside and play when the weather was nice. She taught me how to build a snow fort, and we played in it a whole day once.” For a moment, Raen felt a twinge of something deep within herself, but it was gone like a whisper in the wind before she could register what it was. Frost Haven was the orphanage, and she had met Mrs. Gwyn a time or two. She gathered that the woman she saw the previous night must have been her. Raen could feel her legs grow weaker so she moved to lean against a tree.
Ayric seemed indifferent to the tragedy that had been bestowed upon him. He had lost interest in his chat about snow forts with Raen so he had begun to spin circles in the middle of the clearing, staring up at the trees. He was babbling on to her again about something incoherent. Raen turned her attention away and closed her eyes. She had seen her share of death and animosity, and she wondered what he had been subjected to. None of that was truly important right now, though. Instead, she mustered up her wavering strength and took a step away from the tree, and ensured she was steady enough to stand on her own. She looked to the child who had fallen and was lying on the ground. He turned his head and smiled at her as his hair brushed over his eyes. She didn’t smile back, as she wasn’t here to comfort him. Rather, she was here to make it to Heirsuun, and that’s what she intended to do.
“Ayric, let’s go. You’re coming with me.” She barked at him.
“Are we going on a hike? I’ve never been on a hike. I’ve never been in a forest either. Why do they get so dark and scary at night? If I was an animal I wouldn’t live in a forest.” Ayric continued to ramble until Raen finally interrupted.
“No, alright? We aren’t going on a hike. Just keep quiet.” She ordered, and set off with her little companion a few steps behind who ignored her order entirely.
The forest, in all its twisting and menacing confusion, was familiar to Raen. Her father had often taken her out to hunt so she knew the land rather well. However, once they got close to Heirsuun, that advantage diminished. She’d never been nor had any idea on what to expect, she had only seen the outlines over the horizon, carved into the side of Mount Kaalreach. As a little girl, she had hoped to visit one day, but she never had she imagined it would be on these terms. From behind her, she heard Ayric as they trudged, gabbing on about something that was entirely lost in his digressive speech. She rolled her eyes and continued on, ignoring the little pest behind her. While his nature was baffling, it didn’t change the fact that he pushed every one of the girl’s limited buttons. This, she thought, would prove to be rather interesting. They walked for a while and not one moment was silent between Ayric’s constant badgering and her own thoughts.
They finally came across a rather steep inclination. There were jagged rocks and uneven ground riddled over the hill, but if they were to scale it, it would save an incredible amount of time. Raen made the decision and began to climb. She expected protest from the inexperienced little boy, but he made no sounds of impatience or displeasure. He only continued babbling, this time about how rocks sometimes looked like animals from a distance. The climb was challenging for the girl hadn't done so in a very long time. Memory had her hands moving to grab at sturdy jut-outs and her feet propelling her forward. She focused on her next move, until she found her way to the top. Once she heaved her body over, she reached out to Ayric, who was surprisingly not far behind. “And sometimes if the light hits it right, you would swear it’s a frost troll.” She heard him say as she hoisted his small frame up onto the even ground.
They both turned at the same time to reveal the impressive view. A sea of trees rolled over hills like waves, breaking inn small clusters at parts and becoming incredibly dense in others. Mount Kaalreach sat proudly, bordered by greenery and crowned by the clouds. In its center they saw Heirsuun. The city was large even from so far away, and it was tucked into the mountain like a bird huddled away from the wind. Midst all of the beauty, Raen made a silent promise. Heirsuun would remain unharmed, for her, her people, and her father; they would stand ready to fight.
For Chapter Four, click here