Saturday, December 1, 2012
Chapter Seven, Sample #1
Balfrith and Eldamir departed Fanyamar on the twenty-eighth day of the Hunter, a sunny and cool late spring morning that boded well for their journey. They carried a small amount of food and water with them, but expected to forage and hunt for the majority of their sustenance, at least as far as Illithëon’s southern edge and the River Asca. Both Eldamir and Balfrith carried stout bows of Elefdar make, suitable for hunting, though not as powerful as the Guardians’ longbow. They also had Elefdar long-swords, and of course Balfrith carried Branulf wrapped and hung from the baldric over his shoulder. To complete the panoply, they had been given the light leather armor that they’d worn while serving with the Guardians. Neither of them wore it now, but the pieces were packed away in their rucksacks along with a change of clothes and their food.
They traveled almost directly south toward the Nûmidëan city of Graystone, whence they would be able to take ship across Kingfisher Bay to Hightower and the University of the Arts. Upon reaching Graystone, they would only need the food they carried on board the ship and occasionally on the road, but mostly they would be able to stay in local inns, or purchase a farmer’s hayloft and family meal for the night. Balfrith reflected that this journey would be considerably different from the night he’d fled his home. Then, he was a runaway boy trying to avoid towns and civilization, staying off the roads and making his way across the rough country. Now, he and Eldamir would be taking ship and following roads, and enjoying the benefits of civilization as they went.
A few days into the journey, a thought began to grow in Balfrith’s mind: he still wanted to go home, to see his sister and his father. It had been a long five years, and though the time had passed quickly by, still he went through times of intense yearning for home. And now, as he and Eldamir walked through the forest away from Fanyamar, that yearning returned. Images of his former life in the manor played through his mind, pleasant memories of hide-and-seek with his sister, of laying in the green grass outside the keep and picking shapes out of the clouds at they floated overhead, of exploring the woods and pretending to be a hero in some old story.
“I think I want to go home,” he said aloud, still lost in thought and hardly aware he’d even spoken.
Eldamir paused in mid-step, then continued walking, making his pace match that of Balfrith. “As I recall,” he said, “my father advised you against that idea. At least until you have successfully managed to remove the curse from Branulf.”
“Aye, he did,” was all Balfrith said, and continued on silently.
Two nights later they sat before a small fire, eating wild blueberries they’d found along the game trail they were following southward toward the forest’s border. Nearby, strips of venison smoked in an improvised fire-tent, the scent of slowly cooking meat heavy in the air and adding an edge to Balfrith’s hunger which the berries couldn’t completely satisfy.
Eldamir finished the last of his blueberries, brushed off his hands, and reading Balfrith’s mind, he said, “Well, it’s not venison, but it will do until tomorrow. We can break our fast on meat in the morning, and then be on our way with full bellies.”
Balfrith nodded, saying nothing.
“What’s on your mind, Balfrith?” asked Eldamir. “You’ve been silent most of the past few days - not much company even for me.”
Balfrith looked at his friend, then said, “Still thinking about returning home. Though lord Felaranthir advised against it, my heart yearns for home like never before in the past five years. To leave this island, and my country, without seeing it - without seeing my sister, and my father, one last time - I do not know if I can bear it.”
Neither of them said anything for a while, Balfrith once again lost in thought and Eldamir simply not knowing what to say. His normally wry humor seemed an ill fit for serious conversation, and something told him he’d better say nothing at all.
They took shifts sleeping that night, tending the meat as well as watching for the approach of predators. The scent of fresh meat might draw wolves or worse, and even two men and a fire might not be enough to keep them away if they were hungry enough. Though it had been a mild spring, and food seemed in plenty supply, still it paid to be careful.
Fortunately, the morning came without any interruptions, and both companions were awake and alert with the sunrise, having slept well during their shifts. They ate some of the smoked venison as planned, washing down the dried and salted meat with fresh water. The remaining meat was split up between them, and would easily be enough to feed them for several days even if that was all they ate.
As they set out on the path, Balfrith said, “When we arrive in Graystone, I shall decide. We will either take ship south across the bay to Hightower, or stay on foot and follow the king’s highway south and west to my father’s manor. For now, my heart is torn between following the advice of your father, and seeing my own. Hopefully in three days’ time I will have some peace, and know what to do.”
“There is always hope,” muttered Eldamir under his breath, afraid that he knew what the decision would be.