Friday, October 10, 2008

Faith: Travails

(Part of a continuing series. Previous post here, first post here.)

In the morning, Jared and Evelyn set off for Fir. Their progress was slow. The woods made travel difficult, as Evelyn had suggested, and Jared needed many breaks, exhausted by the work of carrying Evelyn. At the second of these breaks, the two travelers collaborated in crafting a sort of crude harness for Evelyn from cloth and broken branches, lightening Jared's load somewhat. Still, they moved not nearly so fast as a single traveler, unburdened, might have – and slower yet once their supply of meat (source left politically unnamed) was depleted on the second day. They ate nuts and berries instead, and grew steadily thinner.

On the third day, Evelyn descended into fever. Jared found a stream, and used its water to dampen Evelyn's brow. There was nothing more he could do before they reached shelter.

On the fifth day, desperate, Jared ate berries best left untouched. He spent the remainder of the daylight hours puking out his guts, caring for Evelyn whenever the heaving subsided.

On the sixth day, finally, they reached Fir.

The villagers were kind, as Jared had gambled they would be. They took Jared and Evelyn in, gave them food and shelter, cared for their wounds and illness with what medicine they had. Evelyn's fever faded and died; their ribs receded from prominence beneath the poor, but intact, clothes provided by the villagers. Miraculously – perhaps – sensation began to return to Evelyn's legs. Her attempts at walking failed, swiftly and repeatedly connecting her face with the ground. Still, she was healing, as she had desperately feared that she might never, as often happened with wounds of that sort.

Eight days after they arrived at Fir, Evelyn held a heated conversation with Jared across the kitchen table of the house at which they were staying.

“It's time to leave,” she told him. “It's been two weeks since the ambush in the pass. We have no idea what's happened in the city – with the Beckoner forces loose and my uncle... gone, anything could have happened. We need to get back and help my cousin, the heir, take control of the city.”

Jared shook his head. “No. We're not recovered.”

“We're recovered enough,” Evelyn told him. “I know that the red-hair – Jahn, that's his name – has a horse. Borrow it. Beg, plead, put that sword my uncle gave you in hock for it, promise him a dozen stallions in return – it doesn't matter. With it, we can both ride back to the city in half the time we took getting here.”

“You're still healing. We shouldn't leave until you can walk again,” Jared replied stubbornly.

“It doesn't matter,” Evelyn told him. “I can ride – that's the important thing. We need to act quickly, before the Beckoners strike.”

“What if riding aggravates your injury, cripples you for good? It's too much of a risk.”

“It doesn't seem likely. If I managed to get through the forest on your back without permanent injury, a little horseback jaunt won't stop me -” Evelyn paused and gave Jared a closer look. “But that's not the point, is it? You're looking for excuses – any reason to stay here, to give up. Why?”

Jared was silent.

“Is it that you think your loyalty to Ostek died when my uncle did? Think again. There's no better place in the world for you to be. It's a place where any man can gain the stature he deserves – von Erik showed that, if anyone did. In a time like this, you could become a very powerful man – and you'll need power, if you want to stop the Beckoners. They're moving quickly – if they're not stopped soon, I really do think they could succeed. They could set the world to utter chaos, burn the cities and the villages, kill everyone. Monstrous. Hideous. We have to stop it.”

“They spared my life,” Jared said abruptly.

“What?” Evelyn said, taken aback.

“In the pass. Everyone else who'd survived the rockslide, killed. Soldiers. von Erik. Your uncle. The Beckoners chopped their heads off and left the bodies for the crows. You only survived because you were buried. Same reason you can't walk. Mixed blessing.”

“But not me.”

“You didn't tell me this,” Evelyn said, half accusingly, half in shock.

“I didn't know what to make of it. Why wouldn't they kill me? Did they recognize me? Actual Beckoners in mercenary ranks, recognizing me from the village? And, why? Is it some message? A threat? Forgiveness? I didn't understand. I still don't.”

There was silence for a moment. Then, again, Evelyn spoke. “It doesn't matter,” she said. “The important thing is that you're still alive. The reasons that you left the Beckoners – they're still true, more than ever. The reasons that you decided to oppose them – they're still true, too. It doesn't matter. We just have to – move on.”

Silence followed again, for a time. Then Jared grunted, rising from his chair. “I'll talk to Jahn about the horse,” he told her.

Provisioning took more time; but preparations made and farewells said, Evelyn and Jered left for Ostek on the noon of the eighth day. As they set out, they could see black smoke, rising thickly just before the horizon.

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