Being alone in the woods, no matter if by day or night, was something Tiyan usually accepted, knowing it’s a necessity. But when he found himself in a pitch black darkness, deep in the thick woods, he knew that no warm house awaits him after the long night. That no arms would welcome him when he carried the prey to be cooked, no fireplace to warm him. The night was darker thanks to that. Much darker.
His first day went by like a dream. His head was strangely light, like an ethereal gossamer. He managed to gather mushrooms which he knew were not poisonous. The Blade Mushrooms, which fed on frozen ground. They were larger than more dangerous kinds and black as coal, but were edible. One could eat them even raw.
He hoped for the animal to appear, but at the same time, he was aware that with his current state of mind, he would be a much easier prey. So he accepted mushrooms as a substitute for meat.
When the night crept in, he lost the sense of time. The woods were not the biggest in Avras and his inner compass was guiding him well, on the north, where the main road led. But at the same time, Tiyan’s mind was swirling about his tragedy, mincing it through his brain, pushing needles into his head. Roots looked no longer like hands, but something much worse, something created to pull and devour. After some time, he felt determination filled his marrow and stayed there. He survived so much. And still was alive. Someone was awaiting him, someone who never saw him cower, someone who was proud of him and has seen him as someone invincible. And when the mask shatters, what else is left? He was not a hero, but he was ready to become one for Mina. For Noyd and his village. If he is the only thing they have, how can he act selfishly?
This was bigger than him. But the night around him was reminding him that fear is only a feeling. He will feel it, but it may make him faster. Not to run. To go where he should go.
Darkness closed around him, frozen snow surrounded him like cocoons; silent woods, where no one would hear him scream.
But he was going, and that was the only thing he needed now. The first steps are the hardest ones.
He was slightly surprised that nothing disturbed his journey. No animal, no beasts. Even night birds didn’t sound in the darkness, lit by the dim moonlight. The woods were like dead – and he started to suspect he knows why.
After a few hours, and few more, and when the stars were covered by morning fog, and his eyelids were heavy – yet he didn’t allow himself to doze off in the snow – he saw how the forest cleared, to make a way to the path. Buried under thick snow, still recognizable, still breathed under white.
He realized that he was walking through the whole day and night and that alone made him feel his feet in a way that he never thought he was able to feel.
The main road through Avras.
Once, it was the biggest road of this part of the land. Before fae, it was used by almost everyone who didn’t live in deep mountains. Of course, people still needed to guard themselves, as thieves loved the road. But it was much safer than now.
He hoped all fey knew that he was called by the… shadow, whatever it was. He didn’t intend to disappear, just when he started.
He was a few times in this part of the land, when he was younger, much more often. Later, he preferred to stay away. He kept close to Inamora, to keep his family on eye. To have Mina on eye. She was born after the war, if one could call the massacre a war. His parents still had hope in themselves. When Tiyan was still a teenager, he often thought that they were selfish. Bringing a child to this world. But many people were doing that, an act of hope, a touch of normal life. Tiyan understood that after a long time, but he did. If not Mina, he would be alone now. She was his only family member – and he knew he would do everything for her.
He remembered from his early ventures here – a sudden sunlit memory, brimming with autumnal colors and copper aura – that not far from here, was an inn. Inns were a common sight on the road, but now all were empty. Tiyan hoped that the one which he had in mind wouldn’t turn into a lair of some animal – or would have a leaking roof.
He was tired. He needed sleep, like never before. The night when his family died left a restless spot in his mind, it kept him on legs, but now his strength was slowly dwindling.
He should be afraid, but all fear ran from his heart, replaced by tired mind and tired body.
And the mushrooms eaten raw, seemed to not agree with him just as he wanted.
He dragged himself through snow covering the road – still better than in the woods – seeing from time to time signs of old days. The creaking signposts and milestones, sore thumbs standing in white, touched by the hand of time. The silence was almost solid, hanging over him like fog, which slowly started to rise.
When he saw the old wooden building, he wanted to just run into it and fall on the floor, no matter if something was waiting there. He also was aware, if he took the warm sleeping bag, which his father once made for all of them, he could risk sleeping on the ground, by the fire. You are a fool, he thought, almost joyfully. He will be able to rest.
Almost like home.
The doors were not destroyed, but the windows were empty – wind danced between the shutters, wailing and murmuring. The stable building nearby was in a better shape though. Knowing well that the unchecked terrain is dangerous terrain, he brushed through the main chamber, finding nothing at all.
Deciding to take over the stables, he chopped the thin boards that were laying in the inn and at last – made a small fire, to warm his freezing hands.
It felt like the sun descended straight from the sky to warm his pained limbs. A touch of warmth, lifting his spirit. He thought that he could do everything differently. But now, it all didn’t matter. The fire slowly burned out in the small hole filled with wood. The day was early, but Tiyan was tired, so much so that he allowed the young light which beamed in the holes in the wall, to cradle him to sleep.
You know it’s dangerous here.
Everywhere is dangerous.
His bread plopped on the water surface. The fishes started to gather around, hungry and curious. Tiyan’s feet dangled above the small river, dabbing in the wet, and the fishes tried to nibble on them too.
“They will eat you” Noyd made a grimace, which usually was making Tiyan happy to be around her. But now, she looks like she is serious. Noyd was a very serious child. More serious than all his friends. Maybe that’s why they felt good in each other’s company. Noyd was taming Tiyan’s insane ideas. Tiyan was making her laugh.
“They only nibble on me.”
“They will eat your feet.”
“They prefer bread.”
Tiyan also never knew when Noyd jokes and when she does not.
“How can they prefer bread, when it’s soggy?”
“They are fishes, I think they like soggy.”
Noyd smiled lightly, a sun above the stream.
“Yes, you are right.”
They started to throw more bread from the small bridge, Noyd also putting her feet into the water, allowing fishes run between them.
“My mother told me the theater troupe will arrive this month. Mayor Saviren has invited them so they did a performance” said Noyd suddenly.
Tiyan didn’t know that.
“Do you know what they will play?” he asked, curiously.
“She said “Reynardine”. About fairy foxes.”
“There are fairy foxes?” laughed Tiyan.
“Oh yes! And they steal women to their castles.”
“That sounds dangerous. But aren’t fairies just a… story? A tale?”
“Reynardine is real. He stole many women” said Noyd with an assured voice.
“How do you know?” Tiyan furrowed his brow.
“My mother told me. He is old, older than your grandmother, but he looks young. And the shadows creep behind him, like a night.”
Tiyan didn’t know why, but it wasn’t a fairytale in his type. He would prefer to hear about how a warrior sends a dragon into oblivion and saves the whole kingdom.
“Are there dragons in this tale?” he wanted to make sure.
“No. But there are ravens” Noyd put her tongue out. “They whisper to you when you sleep.”
“I don’t think I would like this play. Besides, ravens croak, not whisper.”
“I think I would, very much. And in Reynardine castle, the ravens whisper. It’s known.”
“I don’t like gloomy things. They are so…” he was searching for the right words. “… hopeless.”
“You are scaredy-cat, Tiyan Markon” laughed Noyd.
“Maybe Renahghg will steal you” Tiyan could think only this poor respond, but he knew she didn’t mean that. Noyd never meant to harm anyone.
“Will you go to see the troupe?”
“I won’t, but you can tell me if it was good.”
A fish bit him, hard, blood flew, its way too big teeth sharp as daggers, its eyes blank like the eyes of the anglor.
“Wake up, or you will die.”
Tiyan opened his eyes just in the moment, when hands, dirty wrinkled hands closed around his throat.