Nolan had patiently gotten Erinael to eat a small bit of food, but still she picked. She wanted to return home and see their father. He was inclined to let her, but Broga and Tanis warned against it. Together with Morena, the three of them sat huddled around a fire, in communication with unseen parties on the other end. Erinael’s tale had most definitely disturbed them.
Erinael now lay sleeping next to the platform that held Idriss’ prone form. Nolan sat in vigil over both of them, contemplating. For being of the bloodline of Sartoris, he certainly did not look like much. Tall, with a lean wiriness, yes, but he still passed for human easily enough.
Nolan snorted. He wasn’t one for mixing blood with those outside of his kind. For someone of the line of Sartoris to do so was outright blasphemy. He pondered who it could have been. Sartoris had sired thirteen children over his five hundred years. And all of them had been proud of their heritage. Seresana paying the heftiest of prices.
Voices came from toward the entrance of the cave. The Dead Hunters most likely changing watch. Nolan still had no accurate accounting of just how many there were in the party. They all answered to Tanis, and Tanis answered to Broga. Except for Morena. Even Broga seemed to turn to her.
That was no small wonder, really. So few Elves even possessed the Sight, and none so clearly as Morena. Broga was also too proud to admit it, but Nolan recognized the admiration that a parent felt toward a gifted child.
Soft steps made their way to the back of the cave. Morena coming to check on them, no doubt. Nolan than erupted to his feet when he found it not to be Morena after all.
“At ease, Lord-Prince.” she said softly as she pulled back the hood of her cloak. “I mean you no harm.” A copper sheen reflected the candlelight. A Mender from the River Clans.
“Now that all of the Clan representatives are present…” Nolan muttered.
The mender chuckled softly as she knelt to check on Erinael. “She sleeps soundly.” the woman pronounced. “No doubt of relief.” she smiled up at Nolan. “She was happy to see you.”
Nolan nodded in assent, while secretly begrudging the tendency of River Menders to speak in past tense.
She snorted. “Not all Menders are alike.” There was a hint of laughter in her voice.
Nolan was taken aback by her reply. “So you can…”
“Yes. I can.” She grinned maliciously. “It comes in rather handy when patients insist upon being stubborn.”
“Morena sent for me.” She said, moving to tend to Idriss. She then hissed under her breath and clucked her tongue as she performed her assessment. “His wounds appear to be healing nicely.” she said softly. “The girl is a good Mender.”
“She trained under Parla.”
“I can tell from the content of the poultices. Parla leans toward numbing agents and astringents. I trust the broth has a high nutrient content?” She nodded, not giving Nolan time to answer.
“So he’ll heal then?”
“He should, barring an unforeseen complications.”
The rest of the night passed uneventfully, Nolan getting some rest himself as the Mender tended to Idriss. He awoke later to see the woman and Morena in huddled conversation at the far end of the chamber. Next to him, Erinael slept, but fitfully. Even in the near dark, he could see her eyelids flutter and every so long garbled words would leave her lips. Only when she began to thrash and cry out did Nolan move to wake her.
At first she didn’t respond, forcing Nolan to have to shake her. “It’s alright, it was just a night terror.” he murmured, rocking her in his arms. “You’re okay.”
Morena came over to check on her, gently touching her face. “That slave camp, no doubt.” she said softly.
“No.” The Mender said. “She dreamed of the tree.”
She said it with such certainty that everyone turned to look at her. “How did you know?” Erinael breathed. Tears still stained her face.
“Because those are my memories.” the woman answered quietly.
More candles had been brought in, bathing the cavern in a warm glow. Broga and Tanis stood just at the edges of the shadows, seeming to be familiar with the Mender’s tale as they leaned against the walls. Even Morena, who settled into a comfortable seat. Erinael sat hugging her knees, having calmed considerably as the candles had been brought.
“I swore an oath to protect the children of Eraltes.” the woman began.
Erinael perked at the mention of the Dead Hunter, who had led the forces of Light and Life against the Darkness in the Great War. She was about to speak when Nolan placed a hand on her shoulder to quiet her.
The Mender continued. “I know what the stories say,” she smiled a gentle, knowing smile. “And there is always a bit of truth, no matter how small the tale.”
Erinael looked over at Idriss, immediately thinking back to what he had told her only days ago. Had he known the truth?
“Eraltes did die in the attempt to close the portal, just as Igdrasil sacrificed himself to seal it.” There was a quiet sadness in her voice as she touched a hand to Idriss’ cheek.
“When Igdrasil sacrificed himself, he traded his life for that of Eraltes. The portal was sealed, and Death could no longer come and go freely.”
“The tortured magics still exist, obviously.” Morena interrupted. Tanis straightened with pride, while Broga flashed her a look of disapproval.
“Yes.” the Mender assented. “There are those who would use the ancient spells for their own purposes, and they lose more and more of themselves as they do.”
“Like Zuran?” Erinael asked hesitantly.
“Like Zuran.” the woman was quiet, thoughtful, at the mention of the dragon who had betrayed even his own kind.
After a moment, the Mender broke the silence. “Eraltes went into Exile after that final battle. Only a select few knew of his whereabouts, as his blood was the only thing that could break the Seals on the barrier.” She looked directly at Erinael then. “And the blood of his descendants.”
Erinael blanched at the sudden attention from the Mender and the three Dead Hunters. Nolan squeezed her hand as he hung his head. They had all known.
“That is why your village was attacked.” The Mender said. “If they had found you…” she trailed off.
“So that is why the witch convinced me to run away? To get me away from the protections of the Mountain Clans?” Erinael asked quietly.
“Making it easier for the Darkness to gain access to you? We believe so.” Tanis murmured. His tone led Erinael to believe that the concept was repulsive to him. “If you were to fall into their hands, we believe that they would have you tortured you until you were to wish for death.”
He didn’t need to continue for Erinael to understand what would happen next. “Then kill me. If I’m already dead…”
“No!” Nolan protested. “We only need to keep you safe until the star passes. Right?” He turned to Morena and the Mender.
“Technically yes.” Morena answered. “Once the star sets, the conditions will no longer be the same. The seals will not be vulnerable for many generations.”
“But?” Nolan demanded.
“But we want to destroy the portal completely.” Broga said. “The dragons have already passed. It is time for the Elves to join them.”