Authors: K.J. Hargan
Wynnfrith felt a peacefulness she had never felt before. She had been frightened when the animals began to move throughout the cave. She instantly thought she was in the middle of a stampede. But, she stilled herself and realized that couldn't be possible down here in this sealed cave.
The animals gently moved through the air of the cave, running, fighting, playing, living. Their souls a delicate lace of light and energy moving with all the beauty they possessed in the flesh. Easy ribbons of light extended to each spirit in a beautiful web. Wynnfrith could see that, truly, everything was connected.
Wynnfrith felt a joyful bond to all life. Every living thing was so beautiful. She felt herself crying, and she reached up to touch her tears, but her face was dry.
She turned, and saw her body sitting in the center of the cave holding the unwrapped Ar. For a moment, Wynnfrith was confused.
An auroch gave her a friendly nudge. She knew she was walking in the spirit, and it freed her, unlike any other time in her life. Wynnfrith felt a lightness of being, as if every care that ever could be would never trouble her again. The Ar, which had been such a trial to carry, suddenly was a shining point of light that illuminated any spark of life, living or dead. She could follow that spark right down to the center of the earth on a brilliant, silver cord.
Wynnfrith thought of Kellabald and wished he was there to see what she saw. Then, Kellabald stood before her. It wasn't Kellabald, but it was his spirit. Her beautiful husband was just as handsome and appealing in the shining light of his spirit as if he stood before her in life. Wynnfrith opened her arms to hold him, and when they embraced, Wynnfrith felt such a glow of love, she thought she might give up her spirit at that moment and be with Kellabald for eternity.
"No," Kellabald said. "You still have much to do. Find Ronenth. You must deliver Frea. Much depends on her."
Then Kellabald faded, and Wynnfrith was left with the animals all suspended in a slow, ghostly mass of many beasts running with a slow motion.
He had said to find Ronenth, Wynnfrith thought. Then she imagined the dark haired boy, and she felt her spirit lifted up and moved through the foundations of the earth. Dark spheres were illuminated simply as she willed it to be. The edges of the earth uncurled before her, and she could see, or be, anywhere.
Wynnfrith felt as though she were moving through sand, the very foundation of all creation, and then water, the elemental base of all the universe, and then the rain of a storm touched her face. She stood on the rocking surface of the ocean.
Ronenth struggled with his small ship in the storm. Dark shapes moved under the water.
"No," Wynnfrith said, and the vyreeoten, just under the waves, scattered in fear, as though they had been shocked. Wynnfrith raised up both hands and breathed a deep, calming breath. The winds of the storm abated.
"Ronenth," Wynnfrith called.
Ronenth looked up.
"Wynnfrith," Ronenth said with fear.
"Don't be afraid," Wynnfrith said. "Follow me."
Ronenth understood, and brought his boat about to follow the image of Wynnfrith hovering above the waves. A gentle breeze pushed Ronenth's boat forward.
Wynnfrith suddenly stood in the center of the cave, startling Frea.
"We need to get down to the beach," Wynnfrith peacefully said.
"There are garond soldiers out there," Frea said with unveiled fear. "Why leave the safety of this cave?"
"Ronenth is coming to bring us home," Wynnfrith said with a smile.
From the narrow passage into the cave, came the sound of the covering rock being moved.
"Come out," the voice of Mudsang echoed down.
The New Sea
Derragen, the Archer from Kipleth, sat on a large, tan colored rock, looking out at the featureless expanse of water that was the New Sea. He wore his old green, hooded tunic to match the green of spring. But, the foliage of Wealdland was stunted and late, and so he had no advantage against the blasted and brown landscape. An unceasing, gentle, cold wind whispered off of the flat, unending body of water.
The Archer stared out at the slowly moving mass of gray salt water stretching out before him.
The Great Lake of Ettonne was gone with the shattering of the land bridge Byland. Somewhere in the depths of this unfathomable body of water was the elvish crystal, the Lhalii.
The day was overcast with roiling dark clouds, holding back their life giving rain. The whole scene made the Archer feel as if nature itself was gathering up to challenge him.
The shore of the New Sea was littered with dead fish that had been rotting for the past three moonths. The fish of the Great Lake couldn't withstand the sudden transition from fresh water to salt water. And so the stench of rotting fish was inescapable.
There was only one fisherman left on all of the eastern shore of Wealdland. His hut was near where Derragen sat contemplating the newly formed ocean.
The Old Man was stubborn. Derragen had watched him row his long boat out, and return with empty nets for eight days now.
Derragen was worried that the Old Man would encounter a vyreeoten, the unnatural sea creatures that infested the waters all around Wealdland now that Deifol Hroth had established a new citadel in the land.
But, the Old Man would say, "I'm too chewy and gristled to be of any use to any sea monster."
The Old Man was the sole survivor of all the humans who used to live along the coast. He had climbed the nearby high mound of rocks that all the locals had considered haunted.
He said he heard strange sounds coming from the tall heap of massive granite boulders. He had always thought the fishing villagers stupid and superstitious, but was surprised to actually hear the groans himself.
The Lhalii looked like a shooting star, the Old Man had said, that started far south near Byland, and then arced over the vault of the night sky. The brilliant, blinding crystal hit with a quick splash only a league from the shore. Then the swell began, the Old man had said.
Derragen could see the Old Man rowing back in now.
The Old Man had said he looked over to the small clutch of fishing villages that lined the shoreline like foam from a placid sea.
The Old Man said he had no time to run down to warn his family or friends. He bent down and clung to the rocks with all his might as the towering wave washed over him. He said he thought he was going to drown, but the water receded as quickly as it rose, leaving no trace of any other human. They were all just gone, cleaned off the beach like shore debris that disappears like a magic trick, after a raging storm.
The Archer walked down to the shore to help the Old Man pull his long, fishing boat up through the gentle surf. His nets were, as always, empty.
"There's something big out there," the Old Man spat through the crashing waves. "I don't know if it's one of your vyree-o-thingys, but it's damn big. Scared the willies out of me."
"I told you these waters were infested with vyreeoten now," the Archer said. "Any luck hitting the bottom?"
"I told you how many times," the Old Man snarled as they dragged his boat up onto the sand, "my nets won't reach the bottom. If you want to get the shining thing, you're going to have to get longer nets. Or learn to hold your breath a very long time."
They turned the boat over, and the Old Man spread his nets over the hull of his boat to dry.
The Old Man barely had any hair. His bald head was covered in spots and warts. The skin of his face and head were perpetually sunburned and red. He always had a scraggly scruff of white beard as if he shaved with a dull sword. And yet, there was something beautiful about him to the Archer. He had strength and resolution. He wasn't cruel or mean spirited, just practical and no nonsense. It was a relief to the Archer to spend time with a human in which there was not a drop of guile.
The Old Man reminded the Archer of his father, an old warrior in the always-present wars of Wealdland. The Archer's father wasn't callous, but he was gruff and often filled with an unnamable disgust. Derragen tried to think of the one time he had seen his father smile. It was a quiet day, no chores, no errands, no quests, no missions.
His father had just turned and inexplicably smiled at him. His father was happy in that moment, and that was enough. The Archer choked up a little with the memory.
"Let's get up to my shack," the Old Man nervously said glancing back at the gently shifting sea.
"You're really scared," Derragen observed.
"Something five times as big as my boat passed under me twice," the Old Man breathlessly said. "I didn't stay to see what it was."
"That's big for a vyreeoten," the Archer mused. "Did it look like it had a horse shaped head?"
"All I saw was a shadow," the Old Man sniffed as they walked towards his shack at the edge of the beach. "If I snagged that thing with my nets, it would've dragged me and the boat under quicker than a frightened stauer." The Old Man kept looking back over his shoulder as if he expected a colossal monster to burst out of the ocean at any moment.
"I have wooden arrows that will kill the beasts," Derragen said with amused reassurance.
"And if their master comes?"
Derragen pulled the lone, black Arrow of Yenolah from his quiver and cradled it in his hands.
"It's the last one," the Archer soberly said. "It has to be the arrow destined to kill him." Then he carefully replaced it in his quiver.
The Old Man ushered the Archer into the shack that he had cobbled together from the wreckage that had eventually beached days after the gigantic wave that swept the coastline clean.
"Smoked fish?" The Old Man said with a twinkle in his eye, knowing that was all they had.
"Sounds pleasant," the Archer said with a small smile, silently laughing at the joke. It was all they had eaten since the Archer had arrived.
The Old Man had been very generous and accommodating the past seven days, probably happy for the company, never mind that his guest impossibly sought an object forever buried in the depths of the New Sea.
The Old Man carefully cut one small piece of greasy, smoked fish in half, and offered one piece to the Archer.
"I fought for the Kingdom of Man," the Old Man said as he vigorously chewed his portion of fish. "Did I ever tell you that?"
The Archer just smiled, since the Old Man brought it up at every meal.
"I was a foot soldier," the Old Man said. "I had my own sword. I was in three campaigns against Reia, and two against Glafemen. We loved when you kiplethites were on our side, and shivered in our boots when your arrows were aimed at us. No one blamed you for fighting for both sides.
"I mean, what did it matter anyway? A thousand men trying to kill another thousand men, and in a hundred years we'll all be dead anyway. Stupid, eh?
"I knew some Athelings. Did you ever know any? No? I saw Apghilis several times. I fought for King Aneagill, and then for his son, Haergill, after. He was a good man no matter what anybody said.
"That damn Varknifl, Atheling Judge... Took many houses and lands from good folks I knew. Just because he said so. That's the trouble with the Northern Kingdom of Man. Justice is only who can slay who. Can you get your sword in? Then you're right, friend, no questions asked. How can a people stay grouped as a... people, like that? What kind of community is that?
"You live a good life surrounded by trust. You trust your neighbors and they trust you. The happiest years of my life were in this miserable fishing village until the Great King of Waves came and took everyone away.
"When trust is gone, all you have is violence and terror. Can't walk down a path, but some thug will try to stick you. And then, you think, maybe I'll do the sticking first. That was life in the last days of the Northern Kingdom of Man. That life was a quiet, miserable kind of hell.
"Three campaigns against Reia and two against Glafemen. I tell you what, if the garonds hadn't gone after the glafs, they would have beat us. Half our numbers, and they won almost every time. Tricky, they were. Tricky. Never met a glaf, man to man. Would have liked to. Have you? Wonder if they're tricky like that, man to man, or just their fighting."
"The few I have known were very honorable," the Archer answered.
"Oh, hmm," the Old Man pondered. "Not many around. Not many glafs left alive. But that's what it comes down to, doesn't it? You can have lands and gold, and a battle crown as magnificent as King Aneagill's and what does it matter once you're dead?
"Seems the only thing that really matters in life is who you get along with. If you have children, you may not get along with them. You may not get along with your wife, but you make the best of every day.
"The only thing that really matters is love. I know it's been said a million times, and it'll probably be said a million times after me. But when you have love, it's the only time you truly know you're alive. Everything becomes clear.
"Animals live in the very quick of life. And we're animals of a sort. But we forget that quickness, the very moment in which we're living.
"We think too much about the past, dwell too much on the future. Then you don't even trust yourself. And that's a unique kind of hell.
"We're creatures meant to understand the nature of things, and sometimes we get blind to the true, clear vision that comes with being in love, and being loved just as much back. Sometimes you just have to jump in. It really is a kind of faith. Will this person love me back? Who knows until you jump?
"And there's nothing worse than a life lived with regret. Regret for what you didn't have the courage to do. Looking back on mistakes I've made in my life, I have few regrets of the things I've actually done. What I regret the most is the things I should have done, the things I left undone, the things I decided I could avoid, the things I didn't have the inner strength to attempt. Those things gnaw at you all the rest of your life. So it's better to get out there and take a chance, right? Like falling in love, it's like taking a chance, taking a leap.
"And listen, love that shakes you to your core, even for a few moonths, or just a day, is worth a whole lifetime of suffering. Not everybody gets that. Count yourself lucky if you do, and don't squander it, right?"
The old man stopped and held very still, listening.
"What is it?" The Archer whispered.
"Something's out there," the Old Man whispered back.
The Archer could hear the heavy crunch, crunch of somebody, or some thing, very large, walking over the sand near the hut.
"It's not a vyreeoten," the Archer whispered as he flipped his bow of his shoulder and quickly nocked a wooden tipped arrow, just in case. "They don't have feet."
The Old Man and the Archer held very still as the sound of something very heavy walked all around the shack, twice, then walked away.
The Archer stepped towards the shoddy wood slats that comprised the door. The Old Man caught his arm.
"It's getting dark," the old man said with worry. "Wait for dawn and we'll track it."
"Sometimes you have to just jump in, right?" The Archer whispered with a serious smile, and then slipped out the door.
The sun was setting into a bank of dark purple, black and gray clouds to the west. Neither of the two moons had risen yet. The sky was a dull copper above the low clouds in the west. The sky in the east was a rising black against a rich phthalo blue.
In the east, over the New Sea, the Evening Star blazed like a mysterious, beckoning beacon in the rising night. The Archer thought the Evening Star seemed to be calling out to him, over the flat grayness of the New Sea, pointing, here, here the Lhalíi lays hidden in the deep.
The Archer bent down to examine the sand around the hut. The tracks were definitely hooves, but massive hooves. He could have fit both hands into one indentation. The rear feet were strange, not hooves. The rear feet tracks looked like the imprint of some huge, large, web footed bird. Two large animals together? No, definitely front and hind feet, hooves and webbed feet.
The Archer immediately had a good guess at what it was that had left the spoor outside the shack. The Archer swiveled his head around, worriedly looking for the beast. Derragen cautiously followed the tracks away from the ramshackle hut towards the rocky promontory that had saved the Old Man's life when the titanic wave had struck.
Derragen could see the black shape of some animal prowling around the giant blocks of granite piled up high. The dark silhouette was long and slinky, but the body was massive.
The Archer carefully put his wooden arrow back, and pulled a bronze tipped arrow and nocked it to his bowstring.
The animal seemed to be pawing at the massive blocks of stone with its large hooves.
"Kaprk-Uusshu!" The Archer called. He had seen the animal just three moonths ago, when Lord Stavolebe, the traitor, had ridden the beast to Byland at Deifol Hroth's command. The Archer and the elf tracked the weird beast, desperately trying to stop Stavolebe. When the Kaprk-Uusshu had reached Byland, it threw Stavolebe off its back and had plunged into the Bight of Lanis.