Erinael wanted to say something sarcastic, but a jaw popping yawn interrupted her. And then another. Her eyes watered as the Mender assisted her to lay down, covering her loosely with a blanket. As soon as her head had hit the pillow, she was asleep.
Erinael awoke for a brief moment sometime later, finding all but one of the candles had been put out. She could make out the form of the Mender as she leaned over Idriss, her lips moving in harsh whispers. Erinael could make out none of it, but the cadence was oddly soothing and she soon drifted back to sleep.
When Erinael awoke in the morning, she was alone in the chamber – Idriss was gone. Fearing the worst had happened, Erinael hurried outside, not sure what she might find.
There was a bustle of activity as the Dead Hunters packed and saddled horses. Tanis hailed her as he oversaw the work. Erinael quickly took in the scene, finally spying Nolan and Morena. As well as the Mender kneeling over Idriss. Erinael hurried over, heart pounding in her throat.
She dropped down next to him, telling at once from his color and the gentle rise and fall of his chest that he was alright. “He is still with us, dear girl.” the Mender said quietly. A travois had been fashioned so that one of the horses could carry Idriss behind. He already lay on a tarp fastened between the two poles, and Morena’s horse was standing patiently as she and Nolan tied the ends of the poles to the harness on the horse’s back.
“I wanted to wake you,” Nolan said, his face apologetic. “But the Mender thought it would be good to let you sleep.”
“So a decision has been made, then?” Erinael asked.
“Yes.” Nolan said. Erinael could tell from his expression that he did not like the plan. “Morena and I will return to the mountains. She will be disguised as you, just in case there should be trouble.” The girl smiled encouraging at him from over the back of the horse. “While you and the Dead Hunters make your way to Igdrasil.”
“Through the Cursed Forest?”
Nolan nodded, face set. He really did not like the plan. “After we arrive at the castle, we will then investigate the Witch.”
“What of Father? Have you spoken to him of this plan?” Erinael demanded, only to see from Nolan’s reaction that all was not well back home. “Something is wrong. What are you not telling me?”
“Father has taken ill.” Nolan said quietly. “We got word of it in the night.”
“Then it’s my fault… I almost got Idriss killed, and now I have made Father sick with worry!”
The Mender took her by the hand then, shocking Erinael into silence. “It is not your fault.”
“But they are after me. So it is my fault.”
Surprising all of them, the Mender then slapped Erinael across the face. No one said anything. No one even breathed. Erinael put a hand to cheek, the skin warm to the touch.
“It is not your fault.” The Mender hissed. “These events were set into motion years before your birth.”
Before they set out, Erinael had been made to change into a green tunic and cloak, identifying her as a Mender. With the hood up and covering her face, she could pass herself off as a young apprentice, her shorter stature only working to encourage the deception. When she came back out, she saw that Morena had already donned Erinael’s cloak
With a nod to Morena, Erinael moved to say goodbye to Nolan. He hugged her tightly, almost painfully so. Erinael only wished that he wouldn’t have to let go. However, Morena gently touched his shoulder, forcing him to release her.
“Be careful, okay!” he insisted, brushing her hair from her face before kissing the top of her head. “We’ll join you there as soon as we can.”
Erinael wanted to believe that very much. That he and Morena would find that witch, and force her to tell them how to close the portal for good without it costing any one’s life. But she knew that it could never be that way. To be so simple. But she nodded and smiled hopefully, completely for his sake. For her brother’s sake.
Knowing that she would have to make the first move, Erinael took a step back. And then another. Nolan’s hand still hung in the air from where it had been resting against her cheek. “I love you.” she said, choking back a sob. Then she turned, pulling up the hood of the cloak to cover her face so that he couldn’t see her tears.