The Faithful Ones: Part 3
Almost everyone from the army had decided to leave their homes and follow the Faithful Ones. They were staying in Northesa until Autrin’s Ehv, but the Faithful Ones were anxious to be travelling, and the Northesians didn’t want to stay. Most of the dwarves had already returned home, leaving fifty or so who’d chosen to follow the Faithful Ones. Among them were Miedôle, Glazalkr, Jadaihz-Hailëm, and Iemley the Ice Clan bard. There was something about having fought besides and for the freedom of the Northesians that bound the army together. Given that Raine’s definition of family was anyone she’d fight for, she now had the biggest extended family anyone had heard of. Yet some memories from the battle still sat lodged in her mind, so she kept to the closest of her family which was the Faithful Ones.
Autin’s Ehv came, and the preparations were made. Everyone celebrated it enthusiastically, in their own ways. The dwarves mixed their own customs with the Northesians, and the Faithful Ones knew there was a power greater than the cycling of seasons. The Season’s Promise was easily turned to fit their view of the world, but it still had points that could be understood to mean about the Creator, so they didn’t bother. They danced around their campfires, celebrating the new freedom the Northesians had now. They also celebrated the death and resurrection of the Creator, which had enabled anyone who trusted in Him to have new life. They sang with joy and with the wildness of being brave enough to show the depth of that joy.
The army crossed the Northern Range, the first time ever leaving Northesa for all of the Northesians. Well, they didn’t really go through the mountains, but between two ranges. The Northern Range drew most of the border between Northesa and Westheath, and were the kingdom of the dwarves, but there was another smaller range on a portion of the west coast. Protected only on the eastern side was a city on that coast, which had begun as a trading port but had expanded so much that another wall had had to be built. They headed south-west to that city called Port-Clare, and when they arrived they camped in the valley around it.The army mostly provided for themselves, but some people started working in various shops to be able to afford things they couldn’t make or needed to be able to make with. Matthew found a carpenter who agreed to apprentice him for a season, and Zadut worked with him too. Salma had gone to the healer’s hall, and Bouniek and Freya were working with the Sages. Sunny, Blaze, Taigat-Zhëtzen tended plants that grew around the army’s camp and sold them at the market. Raine, Mel, Rose, and Amedël were helping Sunny, Blaze, and Taigat-Zhëtzen at the market. A lady came by to buy some tubers, and noticed Sunny’s pretty, neatly-done hair.
“Who did your hair?” she asked.
“My friend Rose. She’s really good at it,” Sunny smiled. Rose came over to talk with the lady, and Amedël lifted her head.
“Maybe you could work as a maid for me for a turn,” she offered, then asked if she could buy a basket’s worth of tubers.
“Oh, we don’t have a full basket. But we can give you three carrots, four potatoes, and one burdock root. That’s one large armful,” replied Sunny. Amedël had gathered them into her arms, without the chance of them falling to the floor, and the sight reminded Raine of the first time she’d met the dwarf. She tried to give them to the lady, but she didn’t have the same ability to balance stacks of stuff. She paid for the tubers, and Amedël carried them for her. Rose agreed to work as a maid, and Amedël was offered, and she agreed too, a turn of looking after the lady’s Buchod Room. Mel with her swift leopard pace ran errands and delivered messages for the lady, too.
They waited until the twelfth moon, when the first ship since the beginning of spring arrived. The Faithful Ones asked the captain if he could take them to the Archipelago, and he agreed, saying he would set sail with the first turn of the tide in two days. The Spirit would be the leader of the army in the mean time. The Archipelago was five little islands with strange creatures. Since it would be just the Faithful Ones and whatever creatures they befriended there, it would be a good chance to spend more time together, which there hadn’t been much of over the past year and a half.
“I’m Carlos. Welcome aboard the Merfolk’s Voyage,” said the captain of the ship as the Faithful Ones boarded. Carlos told one of the crewmen to give them a quick tour and get them settled. They’d brought tubers and greens as part of their payment for the service, and once those were given to the cook they friends went back up to the deck to watch the land sail away. It was a good clear day, but they were unused to the feeling of walking on a surface that pitched and rolled. Within a few days they were balanced again, and able to help the crew. They learnt the shanties and taught them some of the songs they knew, but the shanties fitted with the waves and creaking, so they sang to the winds and shrieking seagulls with the rhythm of the ocean. The ocean was a heartbeat, their movements were the beat, the captain’s orders was a drum keeping time, their voices were a chorus.
“Back and forth/ over the crest,/ back and forth/ under the trough./ To and fro/ we heave away,/ to and fro/ we haul away. / Over the rolling rolling blue/ we sail sail over the sea/ where swims the selkies/ and sirens call for you./ Don’t listen to the call/ of the sea,/ just listen to the call/ of the captain,/ and sing a shanty over the sea.” The crew of the Merfolk’s Voyage taught the Faithful Ones their favourite shanty in their rough, deep voices. The crewmen were skilled in various professions but had chosen to work as sailors, drawing their ship across oceans to trade in a dance of ‘have this, give that’ through different countries. They spoke amongst themselves of lands the Faithful Ones had never heard of. Some of them had come from those strange lands, bringing with them an accent, unfamiliar clothing, and unfamiliar speech patterns. But the speech patterns aboard ship were unfamiliar regardless of who spoke, as there was a whole range of words and phrases the Faithful Ones didn’t understand at first. But they fell into rhythm with the shanties and ocean and routine that was ordered by Carlos and the ship’s bell.
At night the Faithful Ones told stories over the meal, and sometimes the crew put on shows for each other by shining a light onto the sail and acting out scenes behind it in silhouette. It was hard to tell they were going anywhere once the land was out of sight, but the same air of wild adventure hung over the ship as hung over the Faithful Ones as they ran and sang when they travelled.
“So which island in the Archipelago do you want to go to?” Caslos asked. The Faithful Ones had been shown some maps, and after discussing the matter they’d decided to go to Farenen. Amedël told the captain so.
“Any reason why that island in particular?” he inquired, and Amedël shrugged, “Do you want me to tell you a bit about it?”
“Sure,” replied Taigat-Zhëtzen.
“Well it’s populated by half-elves, centaurs, fauns, and other such creatures. Farenen is covered in temperate rainforest, and the soil was made fertile by a volcano. Of course, Garaluráhegó’ed is now extinct. They use common speech, but with the patterns and some colloquialisms of Elven. But other islands have their own languages. Amerínen is an island of talking animals who speak common speech, but they also have their own language that nobody has figured out yet. Scall’issad is an island of pegasi and dragons. Wálafex’issad was once populated by dragons as well as types of foxes and wolves, so both islands speak Dragonish but since elves discovered the Archipelago first the language is written in Elven. Branen is populated by dwarves, trolls, and goblins, and they speak Dwarvern,” explained the captain.
“Thank you,” smiled Sunny.
“Any time, as long as I’m not busy,” replied Carlos.
“You know, the moon isn’t really silver. It’s white,” said Raine.
“Oh yeah,” replied Salma. It was a warm night, so everyone slept on the deck.
“I wonder how many moons have passed over our whole adventuring so far,” said Sunny.
“About forty. I don’t remember what moon it is though,” answered Rose.
“It’s still the twelfth. Carlos said we’re about in line with the lighthouse,” announced Freya.
“Really?” asked Rose. Freya nodded.
“So many memories, and that lighthouse was the beginning of our story,” laughed Rose.
“I thought it began when we each got our Glitter,” Raine watched the stars twinkling in the sky.
“Huh. I thought you’d start it with your family.”
“No, that’s more like a backstory. What about you, Sunny?”
“The Glitter was little more than something beautiful and mysterious given by a spirit until I met everyone else.”
“I don’t know where I’d start our story. I suppose if we’re going off when everything changed I could begin it on the Fire Plains when I realised that nothing here can truly harm us,” mused Salma.
“My story begins with meeting the Spirit,” said Freya.
“Mine begins with meeting everyone,” added Matthew.
“For me it could begin either at the lighthouse or in the Caverns,” Blaze rolled over to face them, then asked Mel, “What about you, where does your story start?”
“Which one?” she laughed, glancing at Blaze before turning her face to the stars again. ‘Any’ said Freya and ‘all’ said Sunny.
“Start with this story, our story,” murmured Raine, comfortably half-awake and managing to pay attention to the conversation.
“I’ve never thought about where my part in this story would begin. I suppose it could start when you all met me that day in the forest, and yet I was in this story years before that moment, in your dream, Raine, and even aeons before that when I sang this world from inky blackness. The story of my journey with the Creator begins in my sixth year of learning, at a camp. I knew my Creator all my life and called myself His follower, but on that camp I realised I didn’t act like one. So I promised to follow Him and show my love for Him through my actions as well as my words. Oh how my life had been changing because of a single moment.” She talked about other stories too, and eventually they drifted into sleep as the stars and moon danced towards the west.
The man in the crow’s nest called out, and the Faithful Ones rushed to the bow to look and point at the on-coming land. After an hour or so of waiting they decided it would be better to pack up their things, and once they were done it was time to go.
“Here is Farenen, the more well-known of the island. I thank you for your help, and not just with the crew work. When the waves don’t have a heartbeat that crashes soon this hull, we will sing the songs you taught us. We’ll never forget you,” Carlos said, rubbing his hands together. “This is as far as the Merfolf’s Voyage can go, because there’s a sandbank.” He pointed to the water where the wind made little ripples on the surface, and they saw that it had a yellow-brown tinge form the sand underneath. This extended to the island itself, and was about knee-deep.
“Thank you for bringing us here,” said Salma, being helped onto a platform to be lowered down.
“My pleasure for the joyful singing,” the captain replied as more of the Faithful Ones were lowered.
“Bye!” called Sunny.
The water was deep just by the ship, but quickly got shallow with sand that coloured the water yellow and swirled into the water when feet dug into it. When they reached the island they began to run, casting back one last look at the Merfolk’s Voyage. They laughed and stumbled over the roots and creepers. It was hard work to run without falling there, so they slowed and walked, wondering at the unfamiliar forest. The trees were much taller than those in the forest in Westheath, and they smelled different too. They had no branches for climbing but the high-up branches looked perfect for climbing, and the leaves were long and leathery. Bark peeled off in strips on some trees, something the Faithful Ones had never heard of happening. Little ferns grew on the forest floor, or bushes like short trees with too many thin trunks.
An arrow whizzed past the group and struck a tree.
“What are you doing here?” demanded a voice. The Faithful Ones turned to see a copper-haired, dapple-grey centaur lowering her bow. Salma explained, and Matthew said that they’d set the Northesians free and from the now-dead Raging Wolf.
“You must tell us about it. I’m sorry for frightening you, we’re wary of anyone we don’t know here. My name is Karen,” she retrieved her arrow and led the Faithful Ones into the village. She assembled the various creatures and when everyone was settled and hushed, Blaze began the story. They took turns as everyone listened, enthralled, wondering and murmuring. When they were finished, Karen said she wanted to join them.
The Faithful Ones stayed on Farenen for a few days, and were taught how to weave baskets and ropes. Mel found threads the colours of pink, yellow, white, blue, green, and orange and braided it into a bracelet. A faun taught Raine how to play panpipes, and gave her a set to keep, to her delight. The Faithful Ones enjoyed learning new things in the strange, temperate rainforest.
A sandbank joined Branen to Farenen, although it was deeper than the one on the eastern side of Farenen. The Faithful Ones made a raft to carry their packs, and they swam over, pushing the raft gently and hanging on for a short time when they got tired. Taigat-Zhëtzen, Zadut, Amedël, and Bouniek were curious about the dwarves who lived there and to see how they lived since there were no caves on Branen. A current pulled further into the Archipelago towards the high cliffs of Scall’issad, but the Faithful Ones padded on and finally reached the rocky island.
The dwarves, trolls, and goblins were not very friendly, even grumpier than Taigat-Zhëtzen. A goblin named Fariet followed them everywhere with a mischievous grin, sitting on Karen’s back even though she asked him nicely not to. He wouldn’t leave them alone, and he even stole Raine’s panpipes when they sat down to rest and eat. Raine had been figuring out how to play the forest lullaby and they were snatched out of her hands and taken away. The Faithful Ones managed the night, and decided to go to Scall’issad when morning came. Raine’s panpipes were found in amongst the packs and Fariet was nowhere to be seen. They were almost as Scall’issad when a blanket wriggled and Fariet’s head squirmed out.
“Fariet, you crazy goblin! What are you doing here?” asked Raine.
“Tëm viellû zou ketzai zazetu uzen!” he chirped, shaking off the blanket and jumping onto Rose’s head. She screamed and shouted at him, and he jumped to Raine, holding tightly to her shoulders. Raine sighed and swam on.
Their raft bumped against the cliff face of the island.
“I can’t climb that. Climb up and look for a grey dragon with talons as long as your forearms. Tell him ‘Karen perá erlitá femogusú’ and he’ll bring me up,” instructed the centaur. The Faithful Ones began to climb, encountering several dragons on the way and nearly being burnt once, but making it up within a reasonable time. The plateau was covered in grass and a herd of pegasi. Matthew spotted the dragon Karen had described, and ran up to it to repeat the phrase Karen had told them to. It peered down at Matthew with an eye almost as big as his face before flying away towards Karen. They watched as the centaur conversed with the great grey beast, then he picked her up in his talons and brought to the plateau.
“Terésá yarít, Thessadé-Fótaü!” she shouted over the thunder of wings as the dragon flew over the edge of the cliff and vanished beneath it.
“Gízerálé!” called Karen. A cream-white pegasus twitched its ear and, looking up and seeing the centaur, came running towards the group.
“Karen! Isó tóü yarít béríg farúmá,” it said.
“Nezer, teríc béríg míc,” Karen shook her head.
“Metem terám mós terésá,” Gízerálé flicked an ear towards the Faithful Ones, stamping a hoof.
“Gízerálé gives her thanks to you for bringing me,” Karen smiled, and the group returned the smile.
“Ütel yarít késé kécon késé?” asked the centaur, aware that none of the Faithful Ones understood Dragonish.
“Sül,” answered Gízerálé, ducking her head. “Welcome to Scall’issad.” The Faithful Ones introduced themselves to the pegasus.
“Shall we show them Thessadé Fíláys?” inquired Gízerálé.
“What?” asked Sunny.
“It’s a waterfall,” answered Karen, them turning back to Gízerálé said, “You take them, I can’t fly, silly.” The pegasus reared and whinnied. Five other pegasi flew towards the Faithful Ones.
“Kesa yarít lusu terá oron yerí cerek?” asked Gízerálé and the other pegasi nodded. Rose and Sunny rode honey-gold Sábéa, Salma and Freya rode silver-grey Merylí, Blaze and Matthew rode beautiful brown-coated Meráda, Amedël and Bouniek rode thunder-black Teredá, Taigat-Zhëtzen, Zadut, and Fariet rode lightning-storm-patched Lirisútó, and Raine and Mel rode Gízerálé. Once everyone was comfortable the pegasi began to run and they took flight. There was a lake near the middle of the island with a stream that fell off into the sea as the waterfall Thessadé Fíláys. The pegasi neighed over the thunder of the water, diving and wheeling and flying right through the torrent. There was a network of tunnels hidden behind the falls, and they landed on cool stone, folding their wings. Gízerálé, Sábéa, Merylí, Meráda, Teredá, and Lirisútó carried the Faithful Ones through the tunnels, their hooves clacking on the smooth stone. They passed many tunnels leading to the cliff outside, and when Raine looked down them she saw dragons flying in the bright blue sky. Several tunnels led to sleeping dragons. After quite a while, they turned into a tunnel that quickly came to a dead-end.
“Thessadé-Fótaü!” called Gízerálé, and the blackness in front of them shifted, letting light from outside flood into the tunnel. The blackness turned to scaly-grey, and the grey dragon’s head found a way to curve around and face the group.
“Ütó,” the dragon said softly. The Faithful Ones had expected an echoing, rumbling voice, so they were surprised at its gentleness.
“Celméb oron mós cerek,” he told them and once Gízerálé had translated the Faithful Ones slid carefully from the backs of the pegasi and walked over to the dragon to climb up. He was so huge that there was room for everyone to sit along his backbone. Once everyone was settled and safely hanging on to something – a horn, a scale, each other, whatever they could find. Thessadé-Fótaü crawled from the tunnel to the cliff, and as soon as his wings were outstretched they were in the air. The bright sun was reflected on the ocean beneath them, and the sky was endlessly blue above them. Raine looked back at the tunnel and saw the pegasi flying from the ledge to land on the plateau. Thessadé-Fótaü wheeled and soared upwards in wide arcs. He carried the Faithful Ones about three times the height of Scall’issad from the plateau before diving down towards the sea below. Fariet screamed, thinking that the dragon was going to send them plunging under the surface. He roared and flew parallel to the sea, and the Faithful Ones watched the glistening water slide beneath them. Then they were flying back to the plateau where Karen was waiting with their packs that must have been brought up by the pegasi.
The pegasi flew the Faithful Ones to Amerínen since the sea between the two islands was filled with jellyfish and the distance was further than they could swim. When they’d landed on the island, Raine was torn between meadow and forest. Mel chose forest, and so they went to the right side of the island first. An eagle screeched its welcome, and a doe showed them a berry bush. They followed animal after animal through the forest, learning and teaching some songs. The songs of the animals were more like humming, but were beautiful anyway. They slept in the forest, beneath branches that obscured the sky. The shadows made the starlight a deep blue, and the air had an awakeness that called to stay awake and called to slip into dreaming. A gentle breeze stirred leaves and the night was filled with chittering and quiet movement of the nocturnal ones. The next night was spent in the meadow, with the same blue starlight and tired awakeness as the night before. Raine watched the wispy clouds sail over the ocean of lights, her head full of thoughts and daydreams, until her eyelids fell.
Their raft had been brought over and beached, since they still wanted to visit Wálafex’issad. They extended it a little to make it stronger so they could cross to the last island. The sandbank didn’t reach so far, and the rocky ocean floor was below where anyone could reach without wasting energy. When they arrived there, tired and soaked entirely to the bone as they always were after such a long swim, they found it seemingly empty of life. it was quite the opposite of Amerínen.
“Ütó?” called Freya. The crackling of fire answered and was hushed in the language of dragons. Rose thought it was the grey dragon for a moment, but then she realised they’d have noticed if he’d flown.
“Warlel perá terelis?” asked Karen, and again the crackle of fire answered and was hushed by Dragonish. A few seconds passed and a nine-tailed she-wolf stepped out from behind a boulder. It had white fur and a pink nose. Despite this and its soft green eyes, it was covered in scars from its snout to the tip of its tail and it had a harsh expression. It sat on the stony ground, growling quietly, studying the fifteen.
“Isó erá Corusínell. Warlel eran yarít?” spat the wolf.
“Isó erá Karen. Teríc eran móss farúmá,” replied the centaur. Fariet began creeping towards the wolf.
“No, Fariet,” said Salma to the goblin. The crackle of fire came again at his name, and a small fox ran from the same rock that Corusínell had stepped from. It had pale yellow fur and an orange-red tail. Its pupils were such thin slits that it seemed the fox only had grey irises for eyes.
“Come back, Fariet,” urged Amedël, and once again fire crackled. It came from the strange fox — each time the crackling was heard the fox had flames on its tale.
“Daz isó luret yarít tarm mazer, fíráfex?” Corusínell asked sternly. The little firefox whined but, apparently as mischievous as Fariet, made a sound like a laugh and ran away with the goblin in tow.
“Tósatarleh!” growled Corusínell, snapping at him and beginning to chase him. Salma cried for them to come back, but the sounds retreated into the distance. Raine pulled out her panpipes and began playing. Fariet quickly returned, followed by Tósatarleh who looked rather disappointed that his new friend was more interested in listening to panpipes than a firefox.
“Tósatarleh, dá yarít twil tarm cómülú wóta árí?” Mel crouched down to face the creature. It sat quietly for a moment, considering the offer.
“Pelwí cógúle?” he asked.
“Cómülúlé,” announced Tósatarleh.
Night fell and a waxing slice of moon took the place of the sun. The cooking fire had long ago been blown out by the wind, but the firefox lit itself up to provide them with some light. The Faithful Ones ate their dinner and sang, teaching Karen and Fariet some of their favourite songs while Tósatarleh listened and grinned. They were exhausted, so they soon fell asleep. It wasn’t long before some of the nine-tailed wolves that lived on Wálafex’issad started howling, and the little firefox woke and whimpered and snuggled up to Raine because he liked her panpipes as much as Fariet did. Raine was half awakened by this, and absent-mindedly stroked his fur as she fell back asleep. Another howl rose in the air and she woke again, startled. She sat up and played the forest lullaby on her panpipes for Tósatarleh who’d begun whimpering again. As she played she remembered what had brought her here, every event from her first meeting with the Spirit, and she began singing.
“In the moonlight we shall run,/ until we sleep/ or see the sun,/ and safe will the stars us keep./ The shadows prance/ in a long, wide dance,/ and the wolf howls up to the moon,/ and the dawn is coming soon./ The wind is but a sigh,/ and soon the birds will fly,/ the snow-melt begins to flow,/ but we know where to go.”
The sun rose, and the morning was spent packing up their camp and finding their way back to the shore. Tósatarleh stayed with Raine for most of the day. They returned to Scall’issad, to ask Thessadá-Fótaü and the pegasi to fly them back to Port-Clare. They agreed, so the pegasi were mounted and Karen was held by the dragon once again. It took until late that night to reach Westheath, where they were set down on the grassland. They fell asleep without even cooking a meal. The next day they continued their journey, north now, and they reached the trading port around noon.
The Spirit was glad that the Faithful Ones had returned. They exchanged tales of what had happened over the past few weeks, and when the army noticed they’d returned they were happy. Many had chosen to remain in Port-Clare since they’d made lives for themselves there, but Gatûkai-Zhëtzen had returned with two hundred or so of the dwarves who’d fought with the Northesians as well. He said he’s missed the Faithful Ones and had had a feeling he wouldn’t see them again if he didn’t return. Everyone was ready to move on. Several trading ships came all at once, thankfully, and they bargained a trip to the Sylvan land from the captains. Once the captains’ trading was done, and once everyone in the army’s camp had packed up their things, they boarded and set sail at the turn of the tide. There was about a hundred to each ship.
“Why are you going to the Sylvan Land, and with so many people?” the captain asked.
“We defeated the Raging Wolf and many Northesians don’t want to stay there so we’re seeing if they want to live in other lands,” answered Raine.
“You killed the Raging Wolf? Wow… You’re so young.”
“Most of us are fifteen years actually.” The captain nodded thoughtfully and went back to the wheel. Mel called them together.
“Í ill taráek yut alva parilarn,” she declared, and everyone nodded.
Land appeared on the horizon, announced by the man in the crow’s nest, causing the Faithful Ones to rush to the bow to see for themselves. Tósatarleh jumped onto the railings, then Raine picked him up and held him in her arms so that he wouldn’t fall overboard.
“Tiné satel,” said Raine hesitantly, still unsure of the language.
“Í en… Oh, I don’t know the word for curious,” sighed Freya.
“Ton brí káah,” smiled Mel. “Notog átú ill eb óe nern gena.”
“What does that mean again?” asked Blaze. Mel apologised and translated. Once she’d started teaching them she kept forgetting to switch back to common speech when her sentences contained words the others didn’t know yet. Sometimes she just babbled away to herself, and sometimes when she forgot a word she’d replace it with the corresponding one in common speech.
At last the ship arrived at the port of the Sylvan Land. The Faithful Ones ran from the boat onto the earth with their bare feet, glad to be on solid ground again, however beautiful the rolling waves felt at night. Once all of the army had left the ships, they travelled away from the small town at the port to the Elven tree-top city Lé Durshurel. Some of the Northesians wanted to ask the elves if they could stay and build a new town. Mel padded along the road in leopardess form, letting Tósatarleh and Fariet sit on her back. A pattern and rhythm returned to their lives, and they often filled the surrounding forest with their singing.
“Mec, Í hav srágoben tü shaljé yut,” Mel stood and beckoned to her friends. They’d stopped at the road’s end the night before, and now it was morning. The group followed Mel a little way from the road, and then she stopped and pointed upwards. Raine craned her neck to face the canopy, and saw bridges and walkways built in the treetops. Following the tree trunks back to the ground, they noticed rope ladders and rungs that were nailed into the trees around the place. They began climbing.
“Where should we go?” asked Salma.
“We’ll ask someone,’ replied Rose.
“Excuse me, do you have some time to spare?” Freya asked an elf who was walking by. She stopped and turned to look at the group, and her eyes fell on Mel.
“Yut en alvakin, weh du nen yut- Oh, you’re the Faithful Ones, aren’t you? said the elf. She had silvery-blonde hair that fell to below her waist, and was carrying an armful of scrolls.
“Yes, I’m Mel the Leopardess-Elf. This is Raine, Rose, Sunny, Salma, Freya, Matthew, Blaze, Amedёl, Bouniek, Taigat-Zhёtzen, and Zadut,” Mel introduced everyone.
“Of course. I’m Sivláylé. What do you need help with?”
“After our battle in Northesa, many of the Northesians and dwarves who fought with us didn’t want to stay any more. We’re sort of just exploring and searching for places the Northesians can live in, and some of them want to build a new town and live here.”
“You’ll need to talk to one of the queen’s advisors. Fortunately, I’m going to visit one now. His name is Serígumilá, and he might get you an audience with the Queen,” smiled Sivláylé. She led them to his house over the bridges and walkways that were built from rope and planks or from the trees themselves.
Sivláylé stopped and knocked on a door, which was opened by a man with wiry, greying hair and a bead.
“Ah, Sivláylé. I see you’ve brought guests — from Westheath? Come in, come in,” the elf welcomed them inside. They sat at the large, round table. Sivláylé emptied her arms onto the table, carefully making sure none of the scrolls rolled away.
“Would you like some shrgéwá mimú tea?” asked Serígumilá, “We have a herb native to the Sylvan Lands which, simply put, is a sweeter tasting mint with a bit of a liquorice-y taste.”
“Yes please,” said the Faithful Ones, wanting to try this strange herbal tea. The older elf disappeared through a doorway and made a small racket as the cups and spoons clinked together. while he prepared the tea. He returned with a tray of cups. the teas was a pale milky green, and the spoons and mint eaves were both still in the cups. Rain stirred hers and took a sip and found it to be as described, but the strange thing was that there was a dash of milk in the herbal drink. The smell of mint filled the room, and Serígumilá looked expectantly about the room.
“Oh, you go first Mel,” Sivláylé said.
“Mel, hmm?” I wondered who you were, since you are wearing Westheathite clothing and not from amongst us despite being elven. You’re the Faithful Ones?” They nodded. Mewl explained the Northesians’ request.
“I’ll have to talk to the Queen, but I’m sure she’ll be convinced — it’s the other advisors we could have problems with,” Serígumilá sipped his tea and considered various thoughts for a moment, “Now it’s your turn Sivláylé.” She unrolled one of the scrolls, keeping it flat with her emptied cup. it was covered in strange symbols, which Mel was trying to read but given the confusion on her face she didn’t understand all of it.
“What’s it about?” asked Sunny.
“Serígumilá and I are in charge of organising the Ütelásajs Nov Arrellásí Típófü, the Seasons Of Art Festival. It’s a festival we create art and write songs and poems. The only rule we have is that nobody can make anything about forests because we make enough about that already and there’d be too many things to judge and overall winner. There are four categories with sub-themes. The first is Summer, joy, and heat. The second is autumn, end, and wind. The third is winter, sadness, and frozen. The fourth is spring, laughter, and beginnings. Everyone that enters must pick a theme and at the festival the works are displayed. Also, it’s in a half-moon,” the elf explained.
“Can we enter the competition?” asked Amedёl.
“I’m not sure, but we could go an ask. Sivláylé, you stay and organise the festival.” The older elf stood and opened the door for the Faithful Ones, leaving Sivláylé to study her scrolls.
The group crossed through the city again, traipsing over over the bridges and walkways, sometimes climbing ladders or steps build around tree trunks. They reached the palace, a huge and beautiful tree-house that began on the second layer of bridges and reached to the fourth, which was really quite a long way up. Vines and ivy had been trained to grow around it, and there were stained glass windows.
“Átú lódü mék tü quales úna dencéí íth te nekaté,” said Serígumilá to the guard at the heavy doors. He nodded and went inside, and after a moment he returned to usher the group in.
“Ha, glan Nekaté Twíletsalí,” Serígumilá bowed low to the floor, and the Faithful Ones copied.
“Ha, sawítas karódor”, replied the elven queen, gesturing to them to come forward. “I see you are the Faithful Ones.”
Yes,” Raine nodded.
“Of course. Advisor Serígumilá, what have you come to discuss?” He explained the Northesians’ request to build a new town.
“I will have to hold council, but I am willing to provide whatever help I can,” said Queen Twíletsalí.
“As well as that, Sivláylé and I were explaining the festival to the Faithful Ones, and they wish to participate as a group,” Serígumilá added.
“Let them; they may have something to offer,” Queen Twíletsalí smiled. “Serígumilá, montig mene fon kinlélów foreb sumtétahf.” He nodded, and they bowed again and left.
As they entered Serígumilá’s home Sivláylé looked up from her work.
“We can enter the competition!” announced Sunny.
“But Queen Twíletsalí is holding council to decide if a new town will be built,” said Matthew. Serígumilá went to prepare lunch, explaining his suspicion that some of the other advisors argue strongly against it and there’d be two council meetings to discuss the matter. They ate lunch, and spent half the afternoon with the elves before returning to the forest floor. They recounted their day to Karen and Tania, who’d been sitting by the remains of the fire for most of the day. Fariet and Tósatarleh were exploring somewhere, but quite likely to return for campfire singing, so nobody was worried.
The Faithful Ones started making their song for the festival, drawing on their knowledge of how other songs went to find their own pattern. It would describe the joy and freedom the rhythm of their lives had. As the song progressed, they also helped Serígumilá and Sivláylé set up the displays. After a second council meeting, it was decided that a town would be built to accommodate the Northesians as long as they helped. Mel spread the message to those who wished to stay. They stayed up late one one whispering stories to each other around the coals and lying on their backs with their faces pointed to the sky full of stars. The silhouettes of the leaves against the night were also beautiful, and reminded Raine of their weeks in the forest before meeting Mel, before her world changed. No, her world changed when they were on the Fire Plains. She mimicked the memory, pulling her key from her pocket and holding it to her chest, murmuring ‘I trust you’. She looked back to the sky and her eyes found the eyes of the lion constellation, who she’d come to associate with the story of the children and the lion. Raine had realised once upon a day spent in the Caverns that this story mirrored the story of the Creator’s death, which therefore linked that story to her own since both were reflections of the Creator’s story in their own ways.
“Oh, hush, little one,/ close your eyes and rest./ The one who holds the stars is holding you,” Mel quietly sang the chorus to a song Jes had made up to cope with struggles. rose was humming her favourite song, Sunny, Salma, Freya, and Blaze were watching the sky. Matthew and Zadut were trying to figure out the names of the trees surrounding the group. Taigart-Zhëtzen was asleep, and Amedël and Bouniek were telling Fariet and Tósatarleh the stories of the stars. Raine smiled, glad she wasn’t the only one awake in the middle of the night for once. She listened to her friends’ quiet voices and the forest until her eyelids fell and sleep caught her in its net.
Raine woke with the memory of her first taste of true freedom on her mind, and ;looked anew on the world with its bright, dazzling colours. She was glad she remembered the moment and how to fully trust, because that action dusted off the colours that had faded with ignorance for the wonders they were. The singing sparked wild and courageous joy too. Although the group worked hard on their song, the work wasn’t hard. They laughed together as they strung words into lyrics.
“Something children in Jes’ world do is memorise parts of a book that’s often called the Creator’s Word. Sometimes they’re made into songs. One of them is ‘I have been killed with the Creator. It’s no long I who lives, but the Creator who lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Creator, who loves me and gave Himself for me’. The life it’s talking about is true life,” Mel said.
“That’s nice. So we say that several times over to memorise it?” clarified Salma, and Mel said they did. The Faithful Ones repeated the sentences several times. After that, Mel told them a story about the Creator and they sang for a while. The sunset was a painting of beautiful pink and orange. Insects were chirping loudly, drowning out everything else. Raine played her panpipes and Tósatarleh chirped along. Fariet had figured out the lyrics of the forest lullaby by now, and sang with them.
Bouniek and Karen were slowly teaching Fariet common speech, and he in turn helped teach Tósatarleh by keeping him interested and interpreting because he knew how to understand the firefox best. Tania and Gat=kai-zhûtzen often joined the Faithful Ones’ circle, sometimes telling their own stories from the day. They gave advice on the song from time to time too, or calling Dwarvern bards over to listen as well. Raine was thankful for everyone’s friendliness because it helped strengthen bonds built on trust. She was what Mel called an introvert, and didn’t like spending days on end around people without her own space, but she loved the bonds between everyone in the army. It was awesome to see people helping each other in whatever ways were needed.
Their supplies were getting low and the natural supplies along or not far from the road were depleted too. Rose, Sunny, and Matthew asked Serígumilá if there were any baskets they could go borrow to go gathering food in, and he found twelve large ones for them. The Faithful Ones packed their space up and went on a foraging and hunting trip, planning to return late the next day. Since there was a stream that crossed the road right near Lé Durshaurel, there was no need to fill everyone’s waterskins, but the Faithful Ones took theirs because the river banks were steep in some areas and they would wander from the river as they searched. They headed south, stopping whenever they found roots or berries, and occasionally sending Mel in leopardess form and the males to hunt when game was sighted. It was hard work but the ground was fairly even, although when Serígumilá had let them pour over a quite extensive map they’d seen that their were mountains far to the south, far enough that the peaks sometimes got snow. Two other hunting and gathering groups had also gone out, one heading north in a more seaward direction, and one also heading south, farther back along the road so they wouldn’t end up crossing paths. At night the Faithful Ones built a bigger-than-usual campfire so Matthew, laze, Taigat-Zhëtzen, and Bouniek could skin their prizes. Fariet and Tósatarleh had come after Raine when they realised she’d left, even though they’d previously decided to stay with Karen who wanted to stay with Tania and Lily. They curled up with Raine under her blanket after nightmeal.
In the morning they crossed the river and returned along the east side, finding plenty on that side as well. The baskets, which could helpfully be worn like a pack, were heavy and getting fuller, so it was therefore much slower going that day. Raine found the waning crescent moon in the west that afternoon. it would soon the the second moon of the year, and the seasons of Art Festival was at the beginning of the second moon.
“In Jes’ world, there are twelve moons’ which are called ‘months’, and they aren’t based off the moon’s cycle. Some months are thirty days, some are thirty-one, and the second month of the year is usually twenty-eight days. But every four years there is a ‘leap year’ and a ‘leap day’ is added to make twenty-nine,” Mel said.
“What? That’s silly. What if people lose count of the days, how are they supposed to figure out the part of the moon – I mean month – they’re in if you can’t look at the moon for that?” asked Sunny/
“I don’t know,” laughed Mel, “I guess that’s why people invented a way to track the days, called a calendar.”
“That’s weird,” Zadut said.
“I like out way better, Salma piped up.
“How many ‘months’ of summer are there?” asked Raine.
“Three, and the year begins after the first month of summer, which is silly,” answered Mel.
“Wake up, it’s the day the festival begins!” called Sunny. Everyone readied themselves and ate.
“For love and light, we stand together, forever strong!” the Faithful Ones cried, knowing it would be an amazing day. They climbed to Lé Durshurel to meet up with Siv who wanted to spend the day with them. The festival was one of the biggest in the Sylvan land, so it went on for a week and the Faithful Ones had been scheduled to sing on the last day. They made their way through the displays, calling to each other to look at particularly interesting works they’d found.
“Guys, come look at this one!” Zadut called. The artwork was of ships leaving a port and several elves waving goodbye, and it was titled ‘Adventurers Will Be Followed’.
“Those elves look like Serígumilá, Sivláylé, and Queen Twíletsalí. And if you look closely one of the ships is the Merfolk’s Voyage, and we’re aboard it,” pointed out Rose.
“The elf who painted this is a seer,” said Sivláylé.
“Wow, come look at this painting of grass bent flat by the wind,” beckoned Blaze.
“It almost looks real; it’s very good,” said Freya.
“I remember when we ran across the grasslands in Westheath. How long ago was that?” Raine asked.
“Too long. Look at this, it’s a person with ice on their chest. I wonder what it’s about,” pondered Sunny.
“It’s called ‘Frozen Heart’,” answered Salma.
“This one’s called ‘Death Of A Tyrant’. It’s an artist’s impression of you killing the Raging Wolf, Mel,” said Raine and Mel looked down at her feet, taking a small, sharp breath. “Hey, what’s up?”
“I can’t tell you now but I promise you’ll find out in- when we arrive at Icendell,” she answered quietly, the same secret in her eyes as had been before the battle.
Raine woke to darkness. her reams had been muddled memories of the battle, but they hadn’t woken her.
“Raine,” whispered Rose.
“Yeah?” She rolled over to face her friend. “Nightmare?”
“Kinda. That’s what woke me. It was about the Raging Wolf, and he had killed all of you and my whole family, and he was marching right up to me with a sword in his hand and-” Rose sniffed, the kind that needs a gasp of air, “and I could see in his eyes that he hated me.”
“What’s worse is that I hated him. He’s one of the very rare people who I hate, but it- I can’t bear to hate anyone, not when I was chosen by magic because I’m loving. I’ve always been so scared to admit it, that I don’t just love everyone. And I don’t always love everyone right, sometimes I end up making them pull away.”
“Listen. Take a deep breath,” Raine murmured and Rose nodded, inhaling slowly, “It’s alright. I know it’s hard. I wonder if I’m good enough to be chosen by the magic too. How am I supposed to bring hope? I don’t know! But I know it’s alright, because I don’t have to know everything and I don’t have to do everything. Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Rose held her hands in her lap.
“You don’t have to be perfect. Nobody does.” Rose nodded, and Raine closed her eyes. Rose began singing the forest lullaby under her breath, and soon sleep had caught them again.
The Faithful Ones wandered through the displays, scattered hither and thither, beckoning to each other, discussing the artworks. There were a few painting that depicted the Faithful Ones, but they were lost amongst the many beautiful artworks. Their favourites were a painting of a flower in front of a sunrise, Elven children playing beneath a summer sun, the grass bent flat by the wind, and one other which was Raine’s absolute favourite. She was meandering between the canvases in one of the Summer topic display areas. Salma called her over to show her an image of a stream on a mountain side, wandering through its path. Rain stopped to wonder at its beauty and began to move away when she saw an artwork of the summer night sky, depicting familiar constellations and in the center was the most familiar: the lion, the group of stars that whispered to Raine, calling her. She stood and gaped, her fingers reaching for her key. It was so real — and yet it was only paint. She breathed and moved on again, wishing for Westheathite skies that were open and clear. But at the same time, she didn’t want to go back, since that part of her story was done. What would they find after Icendell, she wondered.
They sat in a crowd of elves and watched people perform their songs. Most sang in Elven, but some sang in common speech and one of those songs was a song of hope that is strong enough to outshine the moon and stars and to light the shadows even when the sun shines. Afterwards, Raine could see the wild, courageous joy burning in her friends’ eyes. Her own heart was restless, in need of movement. But soon they’d leave and go to Icendell, and after that Raine knew not where they would journey to. She murmured the battle cry under her breath, feeling excitement rush through her body. She looked at Mel, whose eyes said ‘soon’, as she had whispered in dreams so long ago.
“It’s the last day of the festival!” cried Sunny.
“Already?” said Rose.
“Yes, and today we have to perform,” replied Mel. They got ready and went to find Serígumilá at their designated stage.
“We’ll be singing to show our joy and freedom that we have because of our trust in the Creator,” Raine reminded them.
“I can’t wait,” said Blaze.
“It’s been so long since we sang like we did in Westheath. We sang on the ships and on the road here, but it wasn’t entirely the same,” added Matthew.
“When can we sing like that again?”asked Freya.
“When we find a place to be our own and become a nation with those who have followed us. We can be nomads,” smiled Mel.
“Oh, then it’ll be a while. We still have to go to Icendell,” Zadut said. Mel’s eyes said ‘soon’, and also held a secret she dared not share, but joy shone brighter than either things.
“Alright Faithful Ones, you’re next,” said the elf in charge of organising performers backstage.
“I’ve got butterflies,” murmured Raine to her friends.
“Don’t worry, it’s going to be alright,” replied Mel.
“Listen,” Salma hushed them.
“As many of you know by now, the Faithful Ones are visiting our land. They heard about our Ütelásajs Nov Arrellésí Típófü, and asked if they could enter as a group. Their theme is joy. Please welcome them, as they sing ‘This Joy Is Always Mine’,” said Sivláylé. The group went on stage, passing the elf, and arranged themselves to sang.
“We can’t hide our shine,/this joy is always mine./ All the stars in the night,/ could they ever hide their light?/ No darkness could ever/ stand in our way./ Stand stronger, braver,/ raise the sword against the fight./ We can’t hide our shine,/this joy is always mine./ All the stars in the night,/ could they ever hide their light?/Do you carry chains of shadow?/ Weary one, set the burdens down./ See, trusting is the key/ to setting yourself free./ We can’t hide our shine,/this joy is always mine./ All the stars in the night,/ could they ever hide their light?/ Come sing with us,/ be part of this joy forever,/ as we dance around the campfire,/ blazing in the night./ We can’t hide our shine,/this joy is always mine./ All the stars in the night,/ could they ever hide their light?/Oh, sing! Oh, dance!/ Forever, forever!/ Smiles as bright as a sunrise,/ laughter ringing out,/ feet stamping like a heartbeat./ Forever, forever!/ We can’t hide our shine,/this joy is always mine./ All the stars in the night,/ could they ever hide their light?/ We can’t hide our shine,/this joy is always mine./ All the stars in the night,/ could they ever hide their light?”
Raine knocked on Serígumilá’s door.
“Hi, we’re heading back to the port town so we can leave with the next ships that come in,” she said when he opened his door.
“Oh. I’ll tell Sivláylé this afternoon before council, and I’ll tell Nekaté Twíletsalí then too. Thank you,” replied Serígumilá, nodding. Raine smiled and turned to climb down to the forest floor. She and the army finished packing up their things and began the journey to the sea. Those who wanted to build a town stayed.
Three galloping horse rode up to the Faithful Ones. Raine turned to see Queen Twíletsalí, Serígumilá, and Sivláylé saddled atop the horses. They were nearly at the port, and the elves spent the rest of the journey with the army. When they finally arrived, the Merfolk’s Voyage and two other ships were there, so they didn’t have to wait for ships to arrive. The elves farewelled them, and then they were sailing for Icendell.
“I can see Icendell!” shouted the man in the crow’s nest. Everyone waited patiently for the Merfolk’s Voyage to come in to the port, and eventually were able to step onto the mountainous land.
“Remember that the Creator’s love is greater than anything. I’ll teach you a new song,” said Mel as they walked. The Northesians, dwarves, creatures from the Archipelago, and the Faithful Ones sang as they travelled. When the sun set, everyone was tired, and there were unfamiliar stars above them.
“The Creator once made — and kept — a promise to an old man that he would have as many children as there are the stars in the sky. Everyone who trusts the Creator is one of those children, who are also, and more importantly, considered children of the Creator,” explained Mel.
“Wow,” said Rose.
“Mel, remember in the Sylvan Land how you said you’d explain something once we got here? About the artist’s impression of you killing the Raging Wolf?” Raine said quietly. Mel took a deep breath and exhaled.
“Alright, Faithful Ones, come over here for a bit,” she said after a moment, standing and moving a few paces away from the rest of the army.
“I have something to tell you all. The very beginning of it is with Jes and the words she puts on the page, but aside from that it started the time when I told Gatûkai-Zhëtzen the story of the Creator’s death and resurrection, and even further from there it starts when we decided to free the Northesians and especially when I held a secret in my eyes I dared not share. But now I must share it. I have never wanted to kill anyone or anything, and I never have-” Mel began.
“Wait-” interrupted Amedël.
“I’m explaining it. I never said I would kill the Raging Wolf, only that I would free the Northesians by convincing him to undo his dark spell. That is what I did,” she continued.
“But you can’t have. The Raging Wolf would never have given up his title, he would never have been persuaded to undo his spell. The only way the Northesians could have been freed — which they are, because how else are they here and not stuck in Northesa? — is by killing the Raging Wolf!” argued Sunny.
“Sunny’s right, the Raging Wolf must be dead!” agreed Bouniek.
“The Raging Wolf wasn’t someone to be reasoned with,” said Blaze.
“Listen to me, please, let me finish. I didn’t have to kill him. That is a cruel and heartless thing to do, to take someone’s life because you don’t agree with them. How can you fight for freedom but kill those you fight against, and end all chances to let them share in that freedom? Isn’t death a kind of prison where there are no more chances to love and live and be kind any more? If you had been in his place, a ruler who just wanted to protect your people but the work was hard, wouldn’t you want to make it easier for yourself? Yes, he couldn’t resist the power he had been given in being given a kingdom to rule. But he is flawed, like all of us, like every single person you’ll ever meet. So when I went into his throne room, I told him I can’t and won’t kill him. I asked him to tell me why he cast the spell, saying he was not as fierce and cruel as everything we’d heard made him seem, and he explained why he had done it. After that, I gave him one of my arrows as a symbol of my grace and mercy, along with a second chance, a chance to begin anew. A chance to begin anew is what everyone who trusts the Creator is given by Him, even after everything they’ve done no matter how evil it is. Why should we refuse the Raging Wolf that, even though he trapped his people, even though he did bad things, even though, even though, even though? Why shouldn’t we be kind, good, gentle, and loving, why shouldn’t we give him joy and peace, have the patience to tell him there are other ways to live, have the self-control to let him live instead of letting our emotions rule? Why shouldn’t we let the ‘bad guy’ live, why should we persist in our hatred, why should we end a life that was so beautifully created, why shouldn’t we let this lesson be taught?” Mel looked around the circle, addressing each of her friends and letting them search for the answers, and after a long moment of quiet, she said, “I had to trick you, I saw no other choice but to let you feel this anger and betrayal now, and I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Where is he then? He’s still dangerous you know, just because you gave him a second chance doesn’t mean he didn’t mess it up. And how will all of them react when you tell them?” Freya gestured to the army.
“How could you just lie to us?” accused Taigat-Zhëtzen.
“So you’re telling us we didn’t have to fight?” asked Raine.
“Calm down, all of you. Mel wants to speak,” said Salma sternly. Everyone stopped and looked at the peaceful girl in surprise, and listened to Mel.
“He is in Icendell, and we need to find him. I don’t plan to tell the army — no, it’s not right, but their reactions will be so much worse than yours.”
“You’d still be lying to them,” replied Sunny.
“Mel did what she had to, and she’s right about it all. Now, I know we’re all annoyed at her, and that’s alright, but we need to accept this. Trust her,” Rose said. Mel breathed a sigh of relief, tension slipping away from her shoulders.
They camped outside the city, as they had done at Port-Clare. The guards at the city gate looked at the army and asked the Faithful Ones what they were doing.
“These people helped to free Northesa from the Raging Wolf, and they didn’t want to stay so they’ve come with us. Some may decide to stay in Icendell, but the rest will keep following us,” Raine answered.
“Oh. Very well then, but we guards won’t do any guarding of your camp,” the guard replied.
“That’s alright,” Raine said, and went back to help her friends.
There was a market being held in the Trader’s Square, according to the guard at the gate when the Faithful Ones entered the city in the morning. They’d been planning to try to find the shops they needed to go to, but a market made everything easier, so they followed the street signs to the square, which was filled with people and stalls with sellers shouting out offers. Freya, Salma, and Blaze went to get provisions while the others bought cloaks to keep warm in the coming autumn months. Raine found the stall they needed, and they tried on different cloaks while they waited for the rest of their group to join them, which they bought with some coins they had left over from Port-Clare and several more Tania had given them. Raine, Rose, Sunny, Salma, Freya, Matthew, and Blaze picked dull-brown, mushroom-stem-coloured cloaks with embroidered hems in the colours the Spirit had marked them with — Raine’s had no embroidery, since she decided she wanted to embroider it herself. Mel’s was dark green with cloud-grey and dandelion-yellow embroidery, Amedël’s was emerald, Bouniek’s was dark grey, Zadut’s was red, and Taigat-Zhëtzen chose brown.
“Good choices, they suit you,” said the seller, whose name was Katie, “Where are you from?”
“Westheath. Have you heard about the Faithful Ones?” replied Raine.
“Yeah, the trader-captain Carlos brought tales of them when last the Merfolk’s Voyage put in at port. He said that they’d killed the Raging Wolf, can you believe it, and that he’d taken them to visit the Archipelago.”
“Of course I believe it, we are them.”
“Surely not,” breathed Katie. “Mel, can you show me your leopardess form?” Mel nodded, shimmered, and shifted forms. Katie stifled a squeal of delight, laughing, and thanked Mel.
“It’s ok,” she smiled in return, shifting back to elven form.
“Oh, Mel, the man selling cured meat told me about a man he went hunting with. He told me that his friend had an arrow he never uses, but he keeps it in his quiver anyway. The description of the arrow fits yours,” said Freya, giving her a bowl of soup.
“Then we’ve found the Raging Wolf. We’ll have to wait until the next market to find this man and ask him where to find the Raging Wolf,” declared Mel.
“I also told the man to tell his friend that a leopardess says hi and is in Icendell as well,” Freya added, and there was a pause.
“He’s going to panic when he hears that.”
“Did I tell the man to say the wrong thing?”
“Not really, although he’ll think I’ve come to kill him. But anyway, if you didn’t get food you wouldn’t have found out about him, and why would we buy provisions if he didn’t run away from us?”
“You have a habit of being confusing sometimes,” Salma said.
Raine played her panpipes for her friends, Fariet and Tósatarleh sitting close to her. They sang, played their star-spotting game, and talked to Tania. Raine felt guilt about not telling her about the Raging Wolf, but she knew it would be better if they didn’t tell anyone who they’d fought alongside, at least not yet. She hoped they could tell the army one day soon, but she wouldn’t do it before Mel said it would be alright. Tania and some of the dwarves would probably accept it more easily than those who didn’t know Mel all that well, but nevertheless it would likely be more difficult than the Faithful Ones had been when Mel confessed. Raine looked to the lion constellation for reassurance, something she’d found herself doing over the past few months. She remembered with a smile the story she’d read in the Caverns about the children and the lion, a story that was similar to her own. How beautiful the stars were. Mel had said once that the skies in Jes’ world were filled with smoke and a bad kind of fog, so it was rare to see as many stars as anyone could in Raine’s world unless one was far away from civilisation. it was a strange thought, to imagine not being able to see the stars in all their wonders. Stranger still to imagine a world with no light at all once the sun set, although that couldn’t be something anyone had encountered. She was glad that the stars provided enough light, even without the moon to shine upon the earth, and then her mind turned to the idea that there is always hope even when everything seems as dark as it can get. Raine plaited her hair where the Spirit had marked it, remembering the moment the magic had chosen her to bring hope to the world, as her friends chatted and the fire flickered.
Raine, Mel, and Freya put their cloaks on and headed to the market. Freya led her friends between the stalls until she saw the stall holder who knew the Raging Wolf.
“Hello, what are you looking for today?” he asked.
“Actually, we’d like to visit your friend, the one with the special arrow you told me about last week,” replied Freya.
“Oh, he moved a only few days ago. I did pass on your message… It’s strange, he never mentioned wanting to go away before,” said the man. Raine sighed, and Freya grimaced.
“Do you know where he went?” asked Mel.
“He said he was going to Starryhall,” answered the man. They thanked him, and went to find a jacket for Karen who had complained of it being colder in Icendell than on Farenen. Raine picked a pretty grey and blue jacket which was embroidered with small flowers around the cuffs, and then they returned to their camp outside the city.
The pegasi arrived in the afternoon, saying they’d been called by Mel’s voice on the wind. Karen showed them a good place to graze, and after dinner the Faithful Ones brushed their manes for them. Tania and the dwarves were amazed by the sight of the pegasi, having only ever read about them, and they asked many questions about what it was like in the archipelago. At last, their curiosity was sated and they sat around the dying fire for a bit.
“We’ll be leaving for Starryhall tomorrow, since the pegasi are here,” Mel said, and smiles lit up the night because everyone knew that travelling meant singing.
“How will we know where to go?” asked Matthew.
“There’s a signpost on the road just down there where it splits,” Mel pointed a little way away. Raine hadn’t noticed it before. It was hard to see in the night, but the fire still had enough life in it to cast an orange glow about.
“The sooner we’re ready, the sooner we can sing!” said Sunny. They packed up their things, wolfed down their meal, and mounted the pegasi with a promise to return as soon as they could. Raine and Sunny rode Sábéa, Mel and Rose rode Gízerálé, Freya and Amedël rode Merylí, Salma and Matthew rode Teredá, Blaze and Taigat-Zhëtzen rode Meráda, and Bouniek and Zadut rode Lirisútó. With several powerful flaps of their wings, the pegasi were airborne. They flew westward, high above the mountains that covered most of Icendell, high enough to just make out the roofs of the town they were heading to.
The Faithful Ones sang the song part of their story had been guided by and their own, amongst other favourites. The wind tossed Raine’s cloaked and made it flap, whisked her hair away from her face, and awakened the wild joy. She sang louder, challenging to wind to try to drown her out. It couldn’t, not even if she sang alone, and there were eleven other voices singing at least if the pegasi weren’t singing too. They sang until they were tired of singing, and then they sang what they wanted to say because it carried better than yelling over the wind.
Travelling through the air was easier than walking, and by the end of the day there wasn’t much farther to go. Rose prepared a meal as Sunny and Raine took the things off the pegasi so they could rest. They sat an ate as the sun drew ever nearer to the horizon.
“Remember when I went to sleep early because I was afraid of the fire?” said Raine once they were finished.
“But then you put your trust in Mel and the Creator,” replied Rose.
“Remember when we fell into the sea and had to get back to the shore?” added Blaze.
“And the lighthouse turned on so we could see which way to swim,” answered Salma.
“Remember when I stated singing so we wouldn’t be bored?” asked Sunny.
“Now we sing all the time,” replied Bouniek. “Remember how you came to the Caverns and when you came back Gatûkai-Zhëtzen was glad to see you again?”
“He’s coming with us to find a place to stay,” said Zadut, standing up, fire alight in his eyes as the sunset set the sky on fire. Taigat-Zhëtzen recognised what he was going to do and began stamping his feet. Mel knew it too, the same fire in her eyes, and she began singing. Raine and the others joined in as the dwarves started an elaborate dance. They tried to copy it, smiling and laughing. The dwarves shouted and started dancing faster and faster until the Westheathites tripped and fell in heap. They lay in the dust for a while, catching their breath, watching the sky’s fire fade into mauve and azure. The silent song of the stars twinkled like wind chimes above them as they found enough darkness to shine in.
“There’s Starryhall!” Rose pointed down to the town. The pegasi glided down and trotted along the rode. The Faithful Ones dismounted and found a place for them to drink, before finding the local inn to begin looking for the Raging Wolf.
“Good day, I’m Alicia. Are you looking for a place to stay?” the innkeeper asked.
“No, we’re looking for someone who came here recently…” replied Raine, then trailed off because she didn’t know how to describe him without naming him.
“Do you know their name?” Raine shook her head, and Alicia described the people who’d come to her inn in the past two weeks.
“That’s the one,” Mel said suddenly, recognition flashing over her face.
“Him? He’s a strange man, typical, sits-at-the-back-with-a-hood-on kind of person, you know? Doesn’t seem the type to have people come searching for him,” Alicia replied, and Mel’s eyes showed understanding as she nodded to herself. “I can call him down, if you like.” Freya said they did.
“Oh!” Alicia exclaimed when she got up to get the Raging Wolf and saw the four dwarves.
“What?” asked Taigat-Zhëtzen.
“Un pëzltan uzen espaik Zhëtzhôtënai?” Amedël frowned.
“I’m a half dwarf. I grew up on Branen, then came here,” answered Alicia.
“Two hundred dwarves from the Dwarvern Caverns are with the rest of our group, camped around the city, retired King Gatûkai-Zhëtzen included. Do you want to come with us?” offered Zadut.
“Of course!” Alicia said, and turned to go upstairs. The Faithful Ones sat down and waited.
“You!” he gasped upon recognising Mel. “You are a liar!”
“Calm down, please. Look, my bow is out of reach. I’m sorry for the fright that message would have given you. I promise I’m not going to kill you,” she said, gesturing to Salma on the opposite side of the table who held Emrísorn for that purpose.
“Why should I trust you?”
“We came to get you. We’re going to find a land to make our home, and you should come with us.”
“You’re a sorceress and you’ve come to kill me.”
“I haven’t. I’ve come to offer you new life.”
“You already did that when you said- Back in- When we met,” he stuttered, trying to hide his past from anyone who might have been listening.
“I offered you mercy and a new chance, not new life, which is what I’m offering now. True, real life without fear,” Mel corrected him. He sighed.
“Why don’t we tell him what we’ve done since the battle?” suggested Rose.
“Sure, tell me a story to while away the day until the perfect chance,” he scowled.
“No, Ra- hang on, what am I supposed to call you?” asked Raine, confused by trying to say ‘the Raging Wolf’ without a ‘the’ in front, and also trying to not say that title out loud.
“Saul,” he said bitterly. “And i don’t want to hear a story right now, I want to know why Mel is here.”
“Well as I said before, I’m here to offer you true life. My friends here have it, and I want you to have it even if you don’t choose to come with us.”
“But I’m alive, not dead. The only things I fear is your treachery and if anyone finds out- you know.”
“Then I’ll explain from the beginning. You are trapped by this world, everyone is. Raine used to have a dream every night, about a leopardess chasing her. I am the leopardess, and when we met the dream was true. I said the same thing I had said every night to her, and I say it to you now: you’re lost, Saul. Come with me and I will show you the way. Trust me. I have said this to the others too, and all of them have accepted. They are truly alive — though it didn’t start straight after they accepted. It took time for them to get to know who I am and to learn to trust me, and when they did their chains fell away. I have already told you that I am the creator of this world. I am as much here as I am with my book and pen in hand, recording what happens throughout these adventures. I wanted to be part of this world. I — Jes — also want to teach people of my world about the only true Creator, who is merciful, loving, the light of the world, and the saviour,” Mel said. “But aside from explanations, I wanted to say that everyone is dead until they put their trust in the Creator, at which point they are given new life and the slate is literally wiped clean, the bloody stains on a cloth washed away to make it white again. All who trust the creator are called to give that chance to others. When I explained to my friends that I hadn’t killed you, I asked them why we should refuse you the chance to begin anew even though you’ve done so many evil things. We are human, that means we are imperfect and flawed. But through the Creator we are made perfect. Do you want that?”
Saul sat silently, head in his hands as he processed what Mel said and considered what she was offering. Raine traced her glitter. After a long time, the once-king lifted his head.
“I will come back to the city with you, and I will decide on the way if I will go with you,” he answered.
“Thank you,” said Mel.
They left after lunch, with Saul and Alicia, galloping on the road back eastward. The Faithful Ones sang when they had breath, and the nights brought warm campfires. Mel told the story of the Creator’s death and resurrection again, and one the others hadn’t heard about a man who couldn’t pay his debt but was released anyway.
“You sing that song often,” Saul said.
“It’s the song that inspired Jes to write the part of our story about our battle in Northesa,” replied Raine.
“Specifically the part that says ‘our call to war,/ to love the captive soul,/ but to rage against the captor’?”
“No, just the song in general,” answered Mel.
“You didn’t rage against me, Mel, not even before you saw I wasn’t as cruel as you thought. Why?”
“You are human; humans make mistakes. And long before that part of our lives I knew I would not kill you. But I did rage at having to fight you. I didn’t want bloodshed, — luckily we avoided that by good planning — I knew it would be hard to convince my friends that I needed to give you a second chance, and I knew it would be hard to convince you of why you need one. I was anxious about the whole battle long before we joined the camp outside Belfaiten, just as Raine was, although for different reasons. That’s why I didn’t rage against you and kill you.”
“So how does this whole Jes thing work?” Saul asked.
“Jes and I are the same person, mostly. I suppose part of me is the version of Jes she tries to be; brave, wild, adventurous, more kind, more forgiving. Sometimes there is no barrier. Hopefully one day we’ll be the same — I am built from the wild joy. The wildness is courage, confidence, a readiness to stand up for what is right and never back down, an energy. Jes wants her life to be built from that, so she can fight for her Creator in a world of those who don’t believe in Him, stand amongst the broken and help them look towards a Healer. But that starts with little things, like this story, like the songs we sing, like caring for others,” Mel shook her head, laughing, “But I’m getting distracted. Jes is a writer. Honestly, right now, that means practice means progress and by the time she’s out of school maybe she’ll be good enough to be at least half-way to publishing properly. No matter how many drafts this story takes, she’ll get there, and build other worlds along the way too. Writing is the way Jes hopes to reach people who need the Creator. Yeah.”
“That’s pretty cool. But doesn’t that mean we’re made up?” asked Alicia, and everyone looked expectantly at Mel, each pair of eyes containing a mixture of emotions. She sighed and thought for a moment.
“Rule one of stories: it’s real. It’s real somewhere, even if that’s only in someone’s imagination. Jes created you, yes, but aside from guiding what must happen she just follows our adventures with a pen in hand. But please don’t think about it, it’s way too confusing and no-one likes to be reminded about their supposed non-existence. There’s people with theories in Jes’ world that everything is just a simulation, but she thinks that’s silly,” Mel smiled. Raine nodded.
“Alright, now no more paragraph-long explanations!” Everyone laughed, and after another moment they began singing.
Raine dreamt half-remembered moments of flying, of being given her glitter, of Mel chasing her in the forest before Raine knew her name. She dreamt a half-remembered terror-daydream of Saul killing all her friends, and a memory of the moment she was set free. So long ago, so far away were those adventures. Her heart was restless and she wanted to fly away from all she’d known to find a land where they could make their place, where they could sing all day. She was still unsure of Saul, but Mel had a point that he should be given a new chance. It was his choice to be made.
Mel ran ahead of the group in leopardess form. Saul was talking to the dwarves. Matthew asked how Raine was, and they started talking about dreams. She explained her tumultuous dreams to her friend, and he explained his. He was wary too, but they both trusted Mel and knew it was Saul’s choice not theirs. Matthew told her about the moment his chains fell away, something he hadn’t told her about before.
“It was pretty soon after we left the forest, a few days after Mel sang while we imagined. It was so strange, I imagined how the world might have been made; nothing then light, sea and land, creatures and people. She blinked the way cats do, and there was something in her eyes that said she had always kept us safe. I decided that if she really had done and if she really could, well, I might as well trust her to be able to set me free. And then I was,” he said.
“Did you see the world shift, like it had been grey but now it’s full of colour?”
“Yes, and a song began in my heart.” Matthew didn’t need to ask if she’d heard it too. Raine grinned.
“So many years we’ve all been travelling together, we know each other so well.”
“Even before we left the village, we seven were good friends for two years. We’ve been travelling for four.”
“That makes six, and we’ll travel forevermore!” Raine rhymed, laughing.
“Hi Karen, hi Tania. We’re back,” Mel called.
“Hello. You won’t guess who’s here,” said Karen.
“Serígumilá and Sivláylé!”
“What, really?!” exclaimed Raine. Karen pointed to the two elves sitting by the fire, cooking something.
“How are you two here? How Queen Twíletsalí let you come, you’re her wisest advisor,” Raine spluttered.
“We came here on a ship, like you,” smiled Sivláylé.
“She knew I wanted to come, but I didn’t ask because I thought the same as you. But she told me I’m getting older and she can find a new advisor,” Serígumilá shrugged. “Also the ship’s captain said that the Merfolk’s Voyage should arrive in about a week from when we arrived. We got here two days ago.”
“Let’s!” Raine turned to Mel, barely containing her excitement. Mel beamed and agreed, and the message was sent to everyone in the army.
By early the next day they were ready to travel to the coast, leaving behind a hundred or so Northesians who’d decided to make their homes in Icendell. Saul declared that there was nothing to lose and a lot to gain and that he would come with the Faithful Ones. He was nervous around everyone but those twelve, but he handled his secret well, and the Faithful Ones had gotten used to the idea of having him in their midsts by then too. They were just thrilled and eager to be on the move again, heading to a place they’d make their own.
“Hello again! Off to find a new land?” said Carlos.
“Yes!, and we can’t wait to run again,” replied Sunny. Once the army was aboard the ship, pushing the limits on what it could bear, Carlos cast off. Raine and Mel stood facing Icendell as it slowly shrank away.
“Let anyone who has heard of us find the land we find if they sail across the seas after us. Let any reader join our story of joy and wildness, and let our story and its meaning be passed on so that others join us. Let all who know our story know the Creator, know His love and kindness and even His mercy, and one day stand dressed in white in His army,” Mel murmured, breathing magic into her words. They stood there a while longer in companionship, before turning and running across the deck to the others.
“For love and light, we stand together, forever strong!” everyone cried as they left behind the world they knew and sailed on.
“There! Look, land!” shouted Sunny, pointing to the green-brown smudge on the horizon. Everyone came to see it for themselves, straining to sight what Sunny had seen. They’d been on the boat for six moons, experiencing storms and various hardships along with the bright times together. The sight of what would be their home gave them joy and hope, but it was still a while before they landed. The Merfolk’s Voyage was pulled up onto the beach, since Carlos and his crew had decided to join them. Raine climbed the ridge and looked out over the land, seeing mountains to the west and grassland and meadows in the east. The army split into tribes: Mel led the Pounding-Song tribe, the Spirit led the Healing-Sword tribe, Karen and Gízerálé led the Travelling-Wanderer tribe, Carlos led the Storm-Flight tribe, and Gatûkai-Zhëtzen led the Stone-Bright tribe. The army divided themselves, and there was a hundred or so in each tribe. Carlos, Karen and Gízerálé, and Gatûkai-Zhëtzen began their adventures in exploring the land, but Pounding-Song and Healing-Sword stayed by the shore a little longer.
The Spirit ate with the Faithful Ones on their last night together before beginning their explorations.
“Hey, Water Spirit, how have I brought hope?” asked Raine.
“You haven’t seen how?” replied the Spirit, and Raine shook her head. “If you hadn’t been chosen, nobody would have done the tasks. Nobody would have met Mel, or gone to Northesa. If nobody went to Northesa, the Northesians wouldn’t have been freed, and nobody would have gone to the Archipelago or the Sylvan Land or Icendell. Nobody would know the Creator, because there would be no story to tell about seven children learning about Him over their travels with Mel. That is truly where the hope comes from, from confidence in the Creator and knowing that one has new life and a new chance. You brought hope to yourselves, the Northesians, and — I trust — to anyone who knows your story.” Raine nodded.
Mel’s bow and quiver hung on her back and the arrow she’d given Saul was tucked in his quiver as a reminder of grace and mercy. Pounding-Song ran through the grass and splashed through a river that gurgled in the soil. There was a forest in the north and east, reminders of when the Faithful Ones met Mel, there were mountains with a small network of caves, reminders of friendships built in the Dwarvern Caverns and of preparing for the battle in Northesa, there were taigas and tundras and rainforests and rivers to explore, reminders of the wild joy each person in that land had come to know. They sang the song written in their hearts, the ones without words, the ones they had always known, the ones made of freedom.