Chapter 42 – Tailed

Both Tiffaniel and Groyven stood at the edge of the forest, looking out to the river’s bank. The afternoon was past its midpoint. The sun now slanting its rays as they walked out from the cover of the forest. After Hendosphyre had returned to the amulet, the children had kept to the shadows and the relative safety from prying eyes by traversing the forest along the river. It was slow going, but after a meagre lunch they had made surprising headway after a chance discovery of an animal trail.

 

Tiffaniel spoke in hushed tones, ‘Ven? Do you think it is safe now? We have gone quite a ways since you released Hendosphyre.’

 

Groyven looked up and down the river, the dead forest that they had passed earlier in the afternoon had shaken him. In fact, just being within sight of it made his hair stand up and gave him goose-flesh. They had kept it to their left as far they could. But even so, it was the bringer of nightmares. The mist that emanated from the dead forest gave the sensation that twisted creatures lurked within it. Watching for poor fools to wander close enough before they struck, dragging their victims kicking and screaming within, never to be seen again, only to rise as wraiths and join the ranks of those waiting within.

 

‘Ven?’ said Tiffaniel.

 

‘Sorry, I, I just.’ he grew silent.

 

‘I know, that forest. Just seeing it made my skin crawl.’

 

Groyven nodded, ‘I thought I could see things moving in there.’

 

Tiffaniel shivered, momentarily silent. She quietly walked out onto the bank of the river, the gravel crunching underfoot and looked back on the way they came within the tree line.

 

‘Good.’ she said to herself as Groyven walked over.

 

‘It is out of sight. Just that alone calms me. The further we get away from it, the better.’ she said, glancing at her brother.

 

Groyven agreed with a nod, looking to the sun and where it sat above the mountains. He frowned a little, maybe an hour before the shadows would be so long that they would be in the shade of the mountain before them.

 

‘We probably won’t see what is left of the eclipse tonight, unless that abandoned village, farm or whatever it is, somehow has a view between the mountains.’ he said, walking closer to the water’s edge, peering along the river.

 

He squinted against the glare of the sun, shading his eyes with a hand, ‘Is that, a wall?’ he pointed.

 

Tiffaniel came up beside him and looked, ‘Do that thing, to make things bigger.’

 

Groyven absently stared at her, confused, ‘Thing?’

 

‘Ven, you did it on the Fiddle, something about compressing the water, or air, something like that.’ she glanced at him, ‘Just being near that place, that dead place in the forest really messed with you, didn’t it?’

 

Groyven turned a shade of red, ‘I was conserving my energy, and you mean creating a lens effect with the humidity in the air.’

 

She looked at him with eyebrows raised slightly, ‘Yes, that.’ she said.

 

He turned from her and concentrated on the space directly in front of them, almost immediately the air became denser as he manipulated it, the humidity being compressed subtly and the valley seemed to grow clearer, the distant mountains suddenly closer and more imposing in front of them.

 

‘Ven, how?’ Tiffaniel exclaimed as she looked from her brother to the scene in front of her.

 

The distant feature that Groyven had noticed on the banks of the river, was as he guessed.

 

‘It is a wall, maybe a stone fence.’ he said.

 

Tiffaniel shared a glance with him, ‘We will be there before night fall. It is not too far.’

 

Without a hint or warning, a howl rose in the valley, loud and echoing. Tiffaniel let out a small cry as both she and Groyven ducked involuntarily, her eyes wild as she looked around, trying her best to follow the echo that bounced off the valley walls. She felt Groyven’s hand on her arm.

 

‘That was too close.’ he said.

 

She nodded sharply as she glanced from one side of the valley to the other. Scouring the bank on their side of the river for movement. Tiffaniel turned, looking back on the direction they came.

 

‘Tiff.’ said Groyven, urgent and quiet at her ear.

 

She followed his outstretched arm, as it redirected her gaze to the opposing bank. Upstream, a couple of hundred yards away, just out of the tree-line. A grey wolf with a white underbelly cut an impressive figure as it stood alone, its eyes on them. It was obvious, even from this distance that it had found them. It broke into motion, loping down to the edge of the river, running alongside the water for a short distance before stopping, watching them again. Its ears pricked. Then the sound of a more distant howl echoed down the valley. Almost immediately it set itself and called back with a long drawn out cry.

 

‘Ven, run.’ Tiffaniel said in a half-strangled whisper.

 

Groyven took Tiffaniel’s hand and they ran toward the trees. Attempting to put distance between the wolf and themselves. Stumbling and crashing through the underbrush, they wound their way through the trunks, just inside the tree-line. After a few short moments of hectic sprinting, Tiffaniel slowed and stopped, leaning against a tree, gasping for breath as she held her side. Groyven stood nearby, peering through the trees and watching the opposing bank of the river with interest.

 

‘Its gone, Tiff.’

 

She looked at him as she breathed deeply, a pained expression on her face.

 

‘It is gone… Back into the forest.’ said Groyven between breaths.

 

‘Keep… Moving…’ Tiffaniel struggled out.

 

Groyven took another cursory look before taking her hand and helping her along as she caught her breath. Their run inside the tree line had been deceptively short, bringing them only marginally closer to their goal for the night. He picked up his pace, towing Tiffaniel by one arm, guiding her back out onto the shore. A determination building in him to reach the abandoned village by sunset, or dusk at the latest. While they walked, Tiffaniel’s breathing calmed, the pain eased in her side and she occasionally checked over her shoulder, searching for signs of the grey and white wolf. As the sun touched the mountain top ahead of them, she broke the silence that they walked in.

 

‘Ven, do you think they are following us?’

 

He considered the thought as they made their way, ‘Yes, I think they are. I just hope we can find shelter, or that they can not find a way to cross the river.’

 

‘Why are the following us, Ven? Don’t they sleep too?’

 

‘Tiff, they do. But, they can hunt at night and during the day too. Their most active time is during dusk and dawn. And we are getting close to dusk.’

 

‘I don’t know if I should be more concerned about the wolves, or about the fact that you know of these things.’ said Tiffaniel as they walked.

 

Groyven smiled grimly, ‘The Captain told me, I asked him about the wolf being the figurehead of the ship, and he told me all about wolves, their spirit and tenacity. That even a lone wolf separated from its pack would become more dangerous in a fight.’ he looked at Tiffaniel, ‘Much like the Fiddle and its crew.’

 

Tiffaniel grew quiet again, thoughts of the ship and its people running through her head. All those faces that she might never see again.

 

‘Stop it, Tiff. I know what you are thinking; if it doesn’t help the situation we are in, then cast it from your mind. Once we are safe you can think about it as much as you like.’

 

Tiffaniel glanced at him and the set of his jaw.

 

‘Ven, how did you cope?’ she asked quietly.

 

Groyven looked at her briefly, considering her question as they walked.

 

‘I didn’t cope. I tried my best to ignore the pain inside of me. I kept telling myself that others needed me more. That maybe if I pushed it down for long enough I would learn to live with it.’ he said as they walked.

 

Tiffaniel watched him sidelong, a frown creasing her brow, ‘Ven, I am s…’ she stopped as he stared at her.

 

‘Don’t. We don’t even know where we are, or if we will even survive the night. If we find safety and people who are of the right kind, I will bend my head to the heavens in gratitude. We tried to use it again to go back, it did not work. Instead, a dragon almost crashed down on top of us.’

 

He looked at her, his expression serious and final, ‘If we can’t go back, we go forwards. We find our place in this world and live our lives without regrets. We be true to ourselves and each other. We are not giving up, I just need to be ready.’ he looked at the sun as it touched the peak of the mountain ahead, the shadow it cast heading towards them.

 

‘In case we can’t go home.’ he said quietly.

 

‘Ven.’

 

He looked to the mountain again, judging the movement of the dropping sun as the shadow from the mountain grew longer.

 

‘Tiff, we have an hour, maybe a little more before dusk falls on this valley. Let’s focus on getting to those ruins ahead.’

 

Tiffaniel looked at him, she saw the will that kept him going all this time. The will to withstand her tantrums and tempers along with the uncertainties that were being thrown at him. She watched as he reached unconsciously for the emblem behind his ear, his fingertips brushing Sialin’s mark as it gently glowed in the growing shade of the mountain.

 

The children doggedly pushed on, the distant abandoned village now in sight, no longer just a low wall of stone. But the crumbling walls of outlying homes or other such buildings that once teamed with the bustle of life, now overrun by the forest and being reclaimed by the wilds. The stack of a chimney rose awkwardly from among the trees, standing slightly crooked. They were now fully in the shade of the mountain, the sun now hiding behind its’ peak while the walls of the valley on either side of the river were bright with warm afternoon light.

 

It had been over an hour since the last cry of a wolf, but it was not a surprise when a long mournful howl rang out over the valley, echoing down along the river. Groyven barely flinched, instead picking his pace up a little faster. Tiffaniel matched his walk; the potential safety that could be found within the ruins ahead spurred her on. In the distance, she noticed a glimmer building up between the trees, the arc of the sun heading towards the horizon, spreading a ray of light over the forest near the ruined village. It gave the miraculous sight of the forest being lit from within. Though the feeling of approaching danger dampened her wonder. Despite this, not once did she think of mentioning to summon Hendosphyre, for it was obvious that the best time to call for the gryphon’s strength would be the moment he was most needed.

 

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