“Or so you claim.” Erinael said with incredulity. It struck her as being a likely story to attempt to garner her trust. She stroked Dasa’s nose, staring into her brown eyes. The mare’s sudden change in demeanor still bothered her.
He drew his sword then, and Erinael stepped back in concern. “Just look.” He held out his free hand in a motion of non-aggression. To all appearances, the sword looked normal enough as he offered it to Erinael.
She turned it this way and that, trying to find something wrong with it. The well-worn sword felt light in her hands, much as a child’s play sword would despite its solid bulk. “Kalhanna,” Idriss said softly. At that, a scrolling pattern of white light twined its way across the length and edges of the blade. Only the true owner of an Elven-made sword could activate such magic.
“How did you come by that sword?” Erinael asked, handing it back.
“I don’t want to talk about how I got this sword right now. I want to talk about you.” He gestured to her as he took Kalhanna back and sheathed it. “Why was the adopted daughter of Lord-King Andraes out traveling on the road. Alone and without proper supplies.”
He phrased it as a statement of fact, pointing out to her and reminding her of her folly.
“You were fortunate that I came across you, and not someone else. The main road is patrolled regularly, but a girl alone can still draw the wrong sort of attention.” He arched an eyebrow and Erinael’s face reddened at the memory.
She continued to stroke Dasa’s face, seeking comfort before speaking. “I was scared.” she said quietly. The thong about her wrist went slack as Idriss stepped closer in order to better watch her face.
“The Blind-Woman came to me,” she went on. At her mention, Idriss straightened. “She was as the people say. Dressed all in white, with her eyes covered.”
He only frowned, saying nothing, and indicated for her to continue.
“She told me that if I wanted to live, then I had to leave. She said they plotted to kill me.” Erinael fought to blink back the tears that came with the terror-filled memories.
“Did she cast a spell on you, as well?” Idriss demanded.
“Yes.” Erinael answered quietly. “So that I could flee the palace without being caught.”
“A clever witch…” Idriss growled. “But that wasn’t the Blind-Woman.”
Erinael looked at him in stunned surprise. “But I saw her.” she argued.
“An impostor.” Idriss said. “The true Blind-Woman will only take on the appearance of what you need to see. She seeks to use subtlety to guide events.” When he saw the doubt on Erinael’s face, he elaborated. “She can alter your perception of her, affect how you see her. She usually takes the form of someone harmless and inconsequential. Like an elderly woman for example.”
Erinael still could not believe what he was saying. “But that is the manner in which I saw her.”
Idriss nodded. “And that is the claim of those who have seen that woman. Often before she advises them to plunge headlong into actions they later regret.”
Erinael’s eyes narrowed. “All the more reason that I should go back. She needs to be confronted. Stopped if necessary.”
She tried to climb up into the saddle then, but Idriss grabbed her wrist. “That witch sent you out into the wild for a reason, and used powerful magic to do it. I will not allow you to go back there.”
Erinael glared at him. “But I can’t just sit back and do nothing!” she protested.
“And I am not asking you to,” He said calmly. “It would just be foolish to go back alone.”
She paced angrily back and forth, her skirts billowing out behind her; the hard soles of her shoes clicking sharply against the tile floor. How could those fools have failed? She had set it all up perfectly. The girl had gone out alone, and had even been marked with magic, so that they could track her and capture her. Yet they still had not secured her.
However, she could content herself with the knowledge that the Lord-King and the Prince had since been separated. The two of them being in close proximity would have proven difficult in later stages, and the Prince’s active search for the girl could be to her advantage.
“Now where are you, little girl.” she hissed.
It took some convincing, but Idriss finally persuaded Erinael to not go headlong into trouble. She had even begged him to come with her, but he had demurred. Instead, they would go to the River Clans. From there, messengers would be sent to the Lord-King directly and a proper investigation into the impostor could begin. Until then, they would have to travel several days through the woods until they were to reach the Sorna River.
In her desire to see the woman punished, Erinael agreed to do things Idriss’ way. As long as she behaved herself and was not difficult, she was allowed to walk or ride as she chose. Regardless, it was slow going as Idriss had no horse.
They stopped at a little stream for lunch, Erinael realizing just how hungry she had been. Idriss laughed at her ravenous appetite, teasing her that proper ladies should chew their food. Erinael scowled at him, but slowed her pace mindfully as she ate an apple.
“We’re not going straight for the river, are we?” she asked, watching Idriss.
He shook his head. “No, I’m taking us on a little detour.” He carefully packed up the remains of their lunch and secured it in Dasa’s saddle bag. “Someplace that you should have been made to visit a long time ago.”
It wasn’t until almost evening when they finally broke through the tree-line. Idriss held back, allowing Erinael to step into the clearing that kept the remains of Loreth village. She did so slowly, reverently stepping around the grass-covered ruins.
She could almost see the buildings as they had been when a fire, super-imposed on this peaceful scene. She twisted this way and that, turning to the screams that she heard around her. She could feel the heat, smell the smoke. It choked her.
Erinael was aware of someone shaking her then. “Erin!” Idriss hissed. He only stopped with the shaking when she picked up her head to look at him, eyes focusing on him at last.
She had collapsed, she realized. “It was so real.” she murmured, looking around her. “The flames, the smoke…”
“A kind of Glamor.” Idriss explained. “Cast by the true Blind-Woman to ensure that no one could ever forget what had happened here.” He looked at her critically then. “It must have been cast in a manner so to deliberately unsettle those with no blood ties. For a survivor then… I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
Erinael seemed to not hear him as she stood and made her way to a stone obelisk set into the center of the village. It held no writing or marking of any sort, but she knew in her soul that this was a permanent marker for those that had been killed here, and here it would stay. She reached out, touching it gingerly with her fingertips before pulling them back with a startled cry as a tingle shot up her arm.
Idriss came up behind her and touched the stone as well, but got no reaction. “A reaction between the two magics, perhaps? The true canceling out the false…”
Erinael reached out experimentally, receiving no shock that time. “Maybe.” she answered.
Idriss took her by the hand and began to lead her away. “Come on. We’ll go on a little ways before we make camp. Just in case.”
He then led her and Dasa back into the woods, turning straight east toward where the river flowed. He didn’t say it outright, but he was concerned about just what ill effects the glamor may have on Erinael. He had not counted on the blood-ties she would have held to those killed there, and the combined effect of the glamor.
She had become quiet and thoughtful, paying little attention as they walked. She stumbled along, almost tripping on several occasions. Idriss finally made her get upon Dasa’s back, and there she sat hanging her head until he called a stop for the night.
“Are you alright?” he asked after having gotten a fire lit.
She brushed hair from her face as she nodded, sniffling in the flickering of the flames. “It’s just a lot to take in.”
“That’s understandable. Even the Elves had difficulty in processing the tragedy.”
“The bandits… They were out to break the bindings that Igdrasil holds in place, weren’t they?”
“That is what the Elves believe.” he answered quietly. He removed Dasa’s saddle and blanket before giving the mare an affectionate pat on the shoulder.
“And what do you believe?” Erinael asked.
“That even after all of the time since Igdrasil and Seresana, that bad things will still happen to innocent people, no matter what the reasoning is behind it.”
Erinael scowled. “How worldly of you.” she muttered.
Idriss ignored her dissension. “There is some truth to the old stories and the superstitions, don’t get me wrong. But you just can’t believe them all.” He settled on his back in the grass, leaving Erinael with the blanket. “You should try to get some sleep. I would think that you would be exhausted considering the day you’ve had.”
Erinael stuck her tongue out at him before spreading the blanket out on the grass, keeping the fire between her and Idriss. She didn’t want to admit it, but he did have a point. Perhaps it had been her love for the old stories that had made the children tease her so badly.
She closed her eyes then, listening to the sound of Dasa’s soft snuffling the grass as she grazed. The mare was just as calm as ever, and had quickly developed a fondness for Idriss. Nolan had told her of such things, of animals who could just tell the goodness held within a person. Often it was in an attempt to make her feel better after the other children had been cruel to her. It had been what had led her to horses and riding. And Dasa. She spurned most people, but only allowed Erinael and a select few of the hostlers to care for her.
Erinael then began to wonder how Dasa would have treated the Lady Marisandra. It comforted her to think that the mare probably would have bitten the woman…
Erinael woke up at Idriss’ insistence, the man pulling on the blanket. She blinked her eyes a few times before they finally focused on anything and she groaned. The sun was just beginning to breach the horizon, and Idriss was more than ready to get a move on.
“Come on girl, we’ve got to get some distance on today.” he persisted, pulling the blanket out from under her. “Unless you want to spend another night out in the wilderness.”
Erinael perked up then. “You mean a town?” The potential for a hot bath excited her.
“Southeast of here. But only if we get there before dark. The gates shut for the night and don’t open again until morning.”
Erinael scrambled then, quickly taking care of her needs while Idriss saddled Dasa and loaded up their few packs. He had already begun to leave when she came out of the bushes, running in order to catch up.