Several days passed and Gareth’s condition improved rapidly. Soon, he was sitting up, and able to lean carefully against the grayed trunk of a tree whose branches provided a canopy for their campsite hidden within Darkling Forest. A few more days saw him standing and moving about tentatively.
Finally, he was well enough to travel.
The night before they were to leave, Gareth lay, his head resting on a bedroll and hands clasped over his stomach. Lisle watched Gareth as he scanned the woods with haunted eyes. She sat with him beside their neat fire, holding slender hands over the coals. Despite it being full summer, the evening air was damp and chilly. Moss sat, watchful, upon Lisle’s shoulder, running tiny fingers through the verdant tangles of hair haloing her small head.
Ell lay curled, tail tip over muzzle, eyes open, reflecting the small flames of the campfire. Only Terris seemed relaxed, fiddling about in his pack, pulling out various small bags of herbs and considering each one. Wagging his head in the negative, he’d stuff the small bag back into his pack and reach in for another one.
Haltingly, Lisle told Gareth of all that had happened after he was shot. She told him how Terris had saved the Guardian.
Terris looked up at them. He squared his shoulders. “I didn’t do nothin’ you wouldna’ done if you coulda’ Gareth.” Then he looked down quickly and fumbled with the bag he was holding.
Gareth carefully pushed himself to a sitting position. His lips twitched but he nodded solemnly to Terris.
Lisle continued on, telling Gareth how Moss had chased away Gareth’s startled assailant, quite possibly saving Gareth’s life. At this, Moss stood up on Lisle’s shoulder and puffed up her chest, wings lifting. She shook her fist at their remembered foe and loosed a string of staccato, clattering syllables.
Finally, Lisle told him how the Guardian sat with him, not eating, not moving for days, as Lisle cared for him the best she knew how. “W…which was n…not v…very g..good,” she said, looking down at hands now twisting in her lap.
“It was good enough. My gratitude to all of you,” Gareth looked at each one in turn as he said this. Then, eyes and head tilting up and to the side, he remembered, “I heard singing off and on, thought it was my Marn.” He turned to look at Lisle. “Was it you?”
“It e…eased y…you. I…I sang e…even when you w…went into th…that s…sleep. I d..didn’t k…know what else to…to d…do.”
Gareth shifted to look at her directly, grimacing slightly as his newly healed wound pulled. His eyes lighted, “I had a dream.”
Gareth told Lisle of the lake and meeting Ell and the choice she had given him.
A pot crashed, jolting Gareth and causing Lisle to start. Together, they looked over to see Terris trying to regain his balance as he leapt over the offending pot now lying on its side on the hard-packed earth and stumbled to his knees. He looked up at them with an embarrassed grin.
Gareth pushed himself to his feet. Looking down at Terris he stepped over and offered him a hand up. Terris looked at the proffered hand with eyes wide, but accepted it and got to his feet. “Ta,” said Terris as he brushed off the legs of his trews, and set about righting the pot to make breakfast.
The next morning, they packed up and set off. Gareth walked up front, occasionally moving off into the woods, then returning to say all was clear. They didn’t travel far that day. Nor could they travel far for many days as Gareth gradually gained his strength back. Lisle took to feigning exhaustion at times to get Gareth to rest, and Terris soon caught on and contributed his own weary complaints. Gareth lost patience with them a few times, refusing to stop.
Unusually, several times each day Ell dropped down from where she flew above the sheltering canopy of the forest, back winging to come to land before them, dried leaves and dust flying up into the air about her. She would settle herself for a rest and look over at them calmly as if this was their usual routine. Always, this was just as Gareth felt exhaustion setting in, despite the desire to push himself. The companions soon learned that she would travel no further until they had all rested.
That afternoon they settled by a brook. It was a comfortable place with the sound of the running water nearby. It was an hour or two before dark and they sat around a crackling fire, replete from a supper of ground flier, which Ell had provided, and Terris had seasoned with just the right herbs and a touch of salt.
Terris fiddled with the handle of a pot that needed mending. Then he looked up at Gareth. “It’s a strange thing I’ve jus’ remembered. That man what attacked the Guardian, he yelled, ‘For the Fallen!’ Jus’ like that. That man was terrifyin’, he was. He wanted to die.”
Gareth looked up sharply, “The Fallen? I remember something of that.” Gareth searched his memory for stories he had heard back when he was traveling with Lur. “There was a group who worshipped one called The Fallen. Anyone who serves the One is their enemy. Those that attacked us, they were after Ell. Makes sense her being a Guardian and of the One.”
Terris groaned. “Rend and tear it,” he said, shaking his head. He put the pot down and took out his knife and whetting stone, and began scraping the blade carefully against the stone. ”We’ll be ready for ‘em if they comes back.”
Gareth looked at him, eyebrows raised, his lips tiling upward. He recognized his own cuss words coming from Terris’s mouth, but said nothing. He was feeling a growing respect for the small man before him; glad now that Terris was with them.
“Yes,” said Gareth, “we will.”
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24